(Sturnella magna) Blackbird family
Called also : FIELD LARK ; OLDFIELD LARK
Length10 to 11 inches. A trifle larger than the robin.
MaleUpper parts brown, varied with chestnut, deep brown, and black. Crown streaked with brown and black, and with a cream-colored streak through the centre. Dark-brown line apparently running through the eye ; another line over the eye, yellow. Throat and chin yellow ; a large, conspicuous black crescent on breast. Underneath yellow, shading into buffy brown, spotted or streaked with very dark brown. Outer tail feathers chiefly white, conspicuous in flight. Long, strong legs and claws, adapted for walking. Less black in winter plumage, which is more grayish brown.
FemalePaler than male.
RangeNorth America, from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico, and westward to the plains, where the Western meadowlark takes its place. Winters from Massachusetts and Illinois southward.
MigrationsApril. Late October. Usually a resident, a few remaining through the winter.
In the same meadows with the red-winged blackbirds, birds of another feather, but of the same family, nevertheless, may be found flocking together, hunting for worms and larvae, building their nests, and rearing their young very near each other with the truly social instinct of all their kin.
The meadowlarks, which are really not larks at all, but the blackbirds’ and orioles’ cousins, are so protected by the coloring of the feathers on their backs, like that of the grass and stubble they live among, that ten blackbirds are noticed for every meadowlark, although the latter is very common. Not until you flush a flock of them as you walk along the roadside or through the meadows and you note the white tail feathers and the black crescents on the yellow breasts of the large brown birds that rise towards the tree-tops with whirring sound and a flight suggesting the quail’s, do you suspect there are any birds among the tall grasses.
Their clear and piercing whistle, “Spring o’ the year, Spring o’ the year ! ” rings out from the trees with varying intonation and accent, but always sweet and inspiriting. To the bird’s high vantage ground you may not follow, for no longer having the protection of the high grass, it has become wary and flies away as you approach, calling out peent-peent and nervously flitting its tail (again showing the white feather), when it rests a moment on the pasture fence-rail.
It is like looking for a needle in a haystack to try to find a meadowlark’s nest, an unpretentious structure of dried grasses partly arched over and hidden in a clump of high timothy, flat upon the ground. But what havoc snakes and field-mice play with the white-speckled eggs and helpless fledglings ! The care of rearing two or three broods in a season and the change of plumage to duller winter tints seem to exhaust the high spirits of the sweet whistler. For a time he is silent, but partly regains his vocal powers in the autumn, when, with large flocks of his own kind, he resorts to marshy feeding grounds. In the winter he chooses for companions the horned larks, that walk along the shore, or the snow buntings and sparrows of the inland pastures, and will even include the denizens of the barn-yard when hunger drives him close to the haunts of men.
The Western Meadowlark or Prairie Lark (Sturnella magna neglecta), which many ornithologists consider a different species from the foregoing, is distinguished chiefly by its lighter, more grayish-brown plumage, by its yellow cheeks, and more especially by its richer, fuller song. In his ” Birds of Manitoba” Mr. Ernest E. Thompson says of this meadowlark : ” In richness of voice and modulation it equals or excels both wood thrush and nightingale, and in the beauty of its articulation it has no superior in the whole world of feathered choristers with which I am acquainted.”