Winter-weary eyes and ears will very soon be rewarded by a plethora of returning birds. The sweet, lazy, flute-like whistle of the Eastern Meadowlark seems to say “See-you-see-yer, spring is here!”
A well-known member of the grassland and open spaces community, Meadowlarks spend winters in the southern United States, Mexico and the Bahamas, and fly north in the spring to find sufficient breeding and nesting habitat.
These birds will breed in many kinds of grassy areas as long as they can find about six acres in which to establish a territory.
Nest building begins soon after their arrival on the territory. The female uses bark strips, dead grasses and plant stems to craft the nest and, in some cases, creates an architectural wonder with an overhead roof and clever tunnel entrance. Nests are always on the ground, concealed by dense vegetation.
Meadowlarks will perch on any elevated post to sing forth their melodious song, which is actually a declaration that “This is my territory so stay out!” The males and females return to the same territory year after year.
These birds are walkers when stalking food. They eat mostly insects like grasshoppers and crickets. Berries and seeds are also an important part of their diet. They also, like other members of the Blackbird family (Icteridae), will push their closed beaks into the ground and then open their mandibles to disturb the dirt to expose grubs and worms.
Meadowlark populations have been declining since the 1970s, mainly due to habitat loss but also from early mowing, overgrazing by livestock and use of pesticides. Places like the Belwin Conservancy are critical for providing habitat for Meadowlarks and other grassland birds.
Go for a hike in the coming weeks and listen for the song that is quite literally music to the ear. You’ll go home with a smile on your face and the imprint of open spaces in your heart.
You can hear and see Eastern Meadowlarks at Belwin Conservancy’s Stagecoach Prairies Natural Area (park in the lot on 11th Street, off Stagecoach Trail), as well as the Bison Prairie off Division Street in West Lakeland, Minn.