[CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

ls.broker ls.broker at cox.net
Thu Jan 8 20:37:07 EST 2009

 From Steve Broker (Cheshire):

So, how does one determine if (and when) a meadowlark in Connecticut  
is Eastern Meadowlark or Western Meadowlark?  One great benefit of  
this listserv (and Mark Szantyr's early morning wakefulness) is that  
comments from time to time send one back to the literature.  At  
present, Western Meadowlark is not on the Connecticut State List of  
Birds.  Here's what three references say about the occurrence of  
Western Meadowlark in Massachusetts and New York.

1. Veit & Petersen. 1993. Birds of Massachusetts.
“Range:  Primarily western Nearctic; breeds from central British  
Columbia east to northwestern Ohio and western New York south to  
Texas and Arizona.  Winters in the southern portion of the breeding  
range south to Mexico.

“Status:  rare and erratic visitor:  25 records between 1957 and  
1974; scarce or absent before and since.”

8-19 July 1944 (Pittsfield)
2 June 1957 (Burlington)
8 June 1964 (Wellfleet – Wallace Bailey)
17 July 1967 (Katama, Martha’s Vineyard)
7 June 1970 (Truro)
10 May 1971 (South Wellfleet)
19 additional observations (mostly from the Connecticut Valley and  
Essex County)

“These records all pertain to males identified on the basis of their  
distinctive song and occurring between the dates 21 April and 17  
July, with one exception:  1, Salisbury Beach, 11 October 1971  
(Forster).  Since 1974, Western Meadowlark occurrences in  
Massachusetts seem to have stopped rather abruptly.  The most recent  
record is:  1 singing male, Squantum, 25-27 April 1981 (Brown et al.).”

2. Bull. 1974. Birds of New York State.
“Range:  Chiefly western North America, breeding from southern Canada  
to northern Mexico, locally east to Ontario and Ohio, and very rarely  
to New York, but extending its range eastward.  Mostly sedentary.

“Status:  Rare spring and summer visitant to western New York, very  
rare in the southeastern portion, and unreported on Long Island.  Has  
bred twice.

“Nonbreeding:  Starting with the early 1950s singing individuals,  
believed to be this species, were recorded from various areas in  
western New York almost on an annual basis. . . Practically all  
individuals of this species have been recorded during the four months  
of April, May, June, and July – when the birds are likely to be in  
song or uttering the characteristic call note, both very different  
from those of the Eastern Meadowlark.  Nevertheless, on appearance,  
the two look very much alike – sibling species.

The accompanying “Map 141 Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)  
Breeding distribution as of 1970” shows records for Columbia County,  
Dutchess County (18-26 June 1962), and Orange County.  “The area in  
and near Rochester has had the most reports of this species.  Western  
Meadowlarks have penetrated New York from the west, most likely by  
way of the Niagara Frontier corridor from Ontario.”

3. Andrle and Carroll. 1988. The Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York  
“Since the first sighting [in New York] the Western Meadowlark has  
been observed almost every year, with reports from seven different  
localities in 1963 alone (Bull 1974). . . Most of the reports of this  
species in the state, including four of the six Atlas records, have  
been from the Great Lakes Plain and adjacent areas.  The notable  
exceptions are several records from the lower Hudson Valley,  
including those noted by Bull (1974), more recent records from The  
Kingbird . . ., and one Atlas record. . . The well-documented  
expansion of this species eastward in the northern part of its range  
was summarized and analyzed by Landon (1956).

“In New York this species occupies the same open farm fields,  
meadows, and pastures that the Eastern Meadowlark inhabits.  Almost  
all of the birds have been initially located by observers who heard  
its musical, bubbling song, so very different from that of its  
eastern relative.  In some cases, observers were able to  
differentiate the Western Meadowlark from the Eastern Meadowlark by  
plumage or its distinctive call note.”  [The species description  
continues with discussion of singing males, long-term site fidelity,  
isolating mechanisms, nests and eggs, and meadowlark hybridization.]

What I gather from these references and from The Sibley Guide to  
Birds is that meadowlarks observed in Connecticut in the breeding  
season (April - July) should be studied carefully for vocalizations  
and field marks to determine if Eastern or Western Meadowlark is  
present.  It is very reasonable to believe that Western Meadowlark  
has been in our state in past years without being detected, due to  
the likely faulty assumption that all meadowlarks here are Eastern  
Meadowlarks.  In the winter months, one would best be armed with a  
telephoto lens camera or a shotgun and a DNA-DNA hybridization kit to  
make the call of Western Meadowlark.  I'll note that during the  
period 1950-51 through 2007-08, a total of 8,083 meadowlarks were  
reported on Connecticut Christmas Bird Counts, and all of them were  
called Eastern Meadowlarks.

The references sited above are from the 1970s, 1980s, and early  
1990s.  I don't have more recent information about the occurrence of  
Western Meadowlark in the Northeast.  I would welcome additional  
comments about distinguishing Western Meadowlark from Eastern  
Meadowlark in winter or in the breeding season.

. . . Mark?

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