Meadowlark Songs: Types of Meadowlark Sounds

meadowlark song
All three types of meadowlarks, Western, Eastern and its subspecies Lilian's meadowlark, use a song with a series of sweet whistles and soothing gurgles. While the similar species of meadowlark sound alike at first listen, there are distinct features to each meadowlark’s song that will help tell them apart.

There are several types of meadowlarks found in North America. These similar species have nearly identical songs with a few distinct differences. So sweet is the meadowlark song that it is often compared to a flute.

Meadowlarks in North America are from the genus Sturnella. These yellow breasted meadowlarks are found in the prairies and grasslands. They like to perch on branches and fence posts next to open fields, scanning the prairie for insects. Because of their bright yellow throat and overall sleek body, they are often mistaken for orioles.

While both Sturnella and Leistes meadowlarks are part of the blackbird family, they are two entirely different groups of birds. Since 2017, Central and South American red breasted meadowlarks have been classified as belonging to the genus Leistes. These meadowlarks have a red breast and black feathers.

We’ll cover the distinct vocal features of each of the three meadowlark songbirds of North America. Then we’ll talk about each type, their location, and what makes them unique. These tips will help bird watchers tell the difference between the similar species of meadowlarks found in North America.

What does the song of the western meadowlark sound like?

Western meadowlark song is a sweet series of warbles and whistles with a watery or flute-like quality. They start with 4-6 long whistles, dissolving into quick fluttering warbles. The song ends with a clipped staccato note before starting over again.

Western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) are found in the prairie and grasslands of western North America. Meadowlark song announces the arrival of Spring, lasting well into the night. This boisterous songbird has around a dozen songs in its repertoire. Even the female western meadowlark uses soft rattling warbles and gurgles during mating and nesting season.

Western meadowlarks look almost identical to the eastern meadowlark. Since the species do overlap on the eastern edge of the western meadowlark’s range, there are a few key identifiers to tell between the two. Both songbirds have brown upper parts, a yellow throat and belly, and a black v-shape around their neck. The western meadowlark’s cheeks are a noticeable dark grayish brown, in contrast to the eastern’s whitish cheeks that blend in with the surrounding feathers.

Western Meadowlark song
Western Meadowlark

What does the eastern meadowlark song sound like?

Eastern meadowlark song is higher pitched than the western meadowlark, with shorter notes strung together before descending into warbles and gurgles. The eastern meadowlark also has a staggering repertoire of 50-100 phrase variations compared to the dozen of the western meadowlark. Eastern meadowlarks will also sing the same phrases repeatedly, then switch to a new song.

Eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) are found from the Great Plains area east in the United States, to Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas. They are also found year-round in South America. They favor fence posts and other perches along pastures and grasslands, where they sing their song from early morning to late evening.

The eastern meadowlark subspecies (Sturnella lilianae) is commonly called the Chihuahuan or Lilian’s meadowlark. This meadowlark lives primarily in the grasslands of Arizona, New Mexico, and bordering towns in Mexico. The Lilian’s meadowlark has more white in the tail feathers along with upper parts that are more gray, and with whiter cheeks.

While the Lilian’s meadowlark is a subspecies of the eastern meadowlark, their range puts them smack dab in the middle of western meadowlark territory. The Lilian’s meadowlark’s smaller black throat patch will help distinguish between these two similar species.

Lilian’s meadowlark song sounds completely different than western and eastern meadowlarks. The various calls of the Lilian’s meadowlark are a series of chatters and buzzing notes that sometimes sound like insects. When using the meadowlark flute-like song, the Lilian’s meadowlark song is higher and shorter. Instead of a short staccato at the end, the Lilian’s song ends with a lingering final note that drops off naturally.

Eastern Meadowlark song
Eastern Meadowlark

What do meadowlarks like to eat?

Meadowlarks are omnivores. They will eat many types of seeds and waste grain from fields. They also love grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects.

The meadowlark diet changes with the season. When insects are ample in spring and summer, you’ll catch them eating everything from spiders to caterpillars. When insect populations decrease during the fall and winter months, they rely on waste grain from harvested fields, weed seeds, and even wild fruits.

Meadowlarks are not commonly found in backyards, but there are a few things you can do to make your yard more inviting. First, plant native plants around the edges of your yard; these attract insects and provide seeds for wild birds. Native trees also provide plenty of perches for meadowlarks to scan your yard for insect prey. During the colder months, scatter bird seed that contains bugs, berries, and grain seeds on the ground.

Meadowlarks are strictly ground feeders, so remove old bird seed from underneath hanging feeders daily. This will prevent predators and the spreading of avian diseases. A ground bird bath placed near the edge of your open yard will also entice meadowlarks. Being a ground forager puts them at higher risk of domestic predators, so be sure to keep cats and dogs inside when wild birds are present.

Meadowlark song

Quick Meadowlark Facts

  • Western meadowlarks are a migrant songbird species, but most eastern meadowlarks tend to stay in one place year-round.
  • Eastern meadowlarks living in the northernmost region of the United States and southern Canada will migrate when food is scarcest.
  • While the western meadowlark population is stable, the eastern meadowlark population is declining rapidly.
    • Habitat loss and over-grazing of pastures is believed to be a contributing factor. Land management practices such as prescribed burns also have an impact on eastern meadowlarks.
  • Even though blackbirds typically join mixed flocks without issue, western and eastern meadowlarks that live along the range overlap are known to fight each other for territory.
  • Meadowlarks have a special flight song.
    • The song sounds like “weet, weet” with some whistles and warbles mixed in.
  • The flight song is the male’s way of announcing his attack on an intruder, or the pursuit of a female meadowlark.
  • The “weet” sound is also used during migration and by young birds to let parents know where they are.
  • Male meadowlarks have two, and sometimes three, mates per breeding season.
  • Meadowlarks take care of their young after they’ve left the nest.
    • Young birds will remain near their parents for up to 2 weeks after fledging while they learn how to forage and hunt insects.
  • The western meadowlark is in fact the state bird of Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Oregon.

Meadowlarks are incredibly interesting songbirds for bird watchers all over North America. With their beautiful song and seasonal feeding habits, they provide a rich array of behaviors to observe throughout the year. While the western meadowlark prefers rural areas, with ample coverage, ground-level birdbaths, and plenty of native plants, the eastern meadowlark is known to visit urban backyards in their home range.

Vianna Arenas

Vianna Arenas is a lifetime songbird enthusiast and nature lover. An avid backyard birdwatcher, Vianna loves gardening and creating a backyard oasis for the wildlife native to her home state of Texas. When she’s not camping or hiking with her family, she can be found sewing critter bags for orphaned wildlife.

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