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western meadowlark

western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
Photo © Alan Murphy Photography

Features and Behaviors

Two species of meadowlark are present in Illinois: the eastern meadowlark and the western meadowlark. They are very difficult to tell apart by sight, but their song can help identify them. Both birds have yellow breast feathers with a large, black “v” marking. The white, outer, tail feathers may be seen when the bird flies. The back feathers are brown. The western meadowlark is paler than the eastern meadowlark, and the yellow on its throat touches its cheek. The meadowlark averages nine inches in length (tail tip to bill tip in preserved specimen).

The western meadowlark is an uncommon migrant and local summer resident and an uncommon winter resident in the state. It lives in sand prairies in Mason and Henderson counties, dry pastures, airports and other treeless, grassy areas. This bird is most numerous in the northern and western parts of the state and is found in southern Illinois only in winter. Its song consists of seven to 10, flutelike notes. Spring migrants begin arriving in Illinois in February. Eggs are produced from May through June. The nest is built of dried grasses in a depression in the ground and is covered with a domelike, grass canopy, leaving an opening on the side. The female builds the nest in three to eight days. Two to six, white eggs with red-brown speckles are deposited by the female, and she alone incubates them over the 14-day incubation period. Predation and mowing are the main reasons for loss of nests. Fall migration begins in October. This bird eats insects when available, switching to seeds and grains when the insects are gone.

Illinois Range


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Icteridae

Illinois Status: common, native