[CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

Mark Szantyr birddog55 at charter.net
Thu Jan 8 22:50:56 EST 2009

Oh what a can of worms....

Western Meadowlark has "hypothetically" occurred in CT as reported in George 
Clark's "Birds of Storrs, Connecticut and Vicinity".   Birds were found 6 
times singing in Mansfield at various locations from 1965 through 1975.  It 
is thought that two males were involved.  All of these records were from May 
and June.  No written report or description exists and these birds have not 
been evaluated by the ARCC.  The observers in every case were impeccable. 
What got me going on this was the report from New Brunswick, Canada of a 
Western Meadowlark 6 December 2007.  This report and a photo appear in the 
most rcent issue of North American Birds.  There are several good references 
to Identification...the newest Nat Geo guide is good as is Sibley.  Pyles 
Guide to Bird Identification : the Passerines, deals with it in a more 
extensive way.  A book that I find priceless is "The Western Bird Watcher" 
by Kevin Zimmer. Several ID nightmares are dealt with very well, including 
the meadowlarks.  Basically, Western Meadowlark shows a paler overall 
appearance, paler crown stripes that show streaking ( unlike the dark and 
rather unstreaked Eastern), a cheek that can be nearly the same shade as the 
crown stripes ( and not pale or whitish like Eastern), Finely barred tail 
feathers and tertials and coverts ( not showing a dark coalescence along the 
shaft as in Eastern).  There are the differences in vocalization and habitat 
preferences as described in the literature.

I was sent an email by one of the best birders in New England about my 
original post.  He believes I am being difficult...the greatest probability 
is that any Meadowlark seen in CT will be Eastern, even in winter.  I guess 
I believe that unless you actually identify a bird, you are only assuming an 
identity.  We all do this all the time. A flock of 500 American Robins goes 
overhead and while you might actually identify one or two, largely we assume 
they are all robins.  I think, though, that if we strive toward 100% 
certainty in identification of each bird we actually identify, we will all 
be better for it and find more cool birds...

Off my soap box.


Mark S. Szantyr
80 Bicknell Road #9
Ashford, Connecticut 06278
Birddog55 at charter.net
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "ls.broker" <ls.broker at cox.net>
To: <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2009 8:37 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

>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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