Thursday, January 12, 2012

Backyard Nature - The Meadowlark

Meadowlarks are the eight species birds that make up the Sturnella genus. Though most are referred to as meadowlarks, two members of the genus are commonly called blackbirds; the red-breasted blackbird and the white-browed blackbird, though neither is closely related to other blackbirds.
Photo: Kevin Cole
The most common members of the genus throughout North America are Western and Eastern meadowlarks. They can both be identified by their yellow undersides and a prominent black “V” just below the throat. Though similar in appearance, the two species have different songs and do not hybridize regularly when their ranges overlap.

Most meadowlarks nest in fields, meadows or abandoned pastures on the ground, often in a depression if possible. These nests are made out of local material the bird can gather and sometimes have a complete roof with a tunnel leading to the nesting area. Because meadowlarks often nest in agricultural areas they can be disturbed or lose eggs to commercial mowing operations. Meadowlarks are not tolerant of a human presence and may abandon a nest if disturbed too often.
Meadowlarks are primarily insectivores, but they do also eat grains and seeds when food is scarce. Meadowlarks forage for insects on the ground by inserting their beaks into soil or a tree and using unusually strong jaw muscles to make a wider hole. This technique is called “gaping”, and allows the birds to access insects that others cannot. The meadowlark’s copious insect consumption makes its presence beneficial to both farmers and homeowners. 

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