[CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

Clay Taylor ctaylor at att.net
Fri Jan 9 00:37:22 EST 2009

Hi all -

My $.02 from an area where we get a perplexing mix of both species in 
winter, and I'm only now starting to get a handle on IDing them.   The 
differences in flight / alarm call can be very useful, at the very least 
giving you an idea of what features to look for after the birds land.

Back in the 70s and 80s when I was birding and hawk banding in Rochester NY, 
Western Meadowlark was an uncommon but expected spring bird, usually found 
singing in the fields along the Lake Ontario lakeplain.   One of the top 
birders there was a highway engineer for the State of NY, and he found 
Western Meadowlark nests in the Point Breeze area as they surveyed and 
constructed the Lake Ontario State Parkway in the 70s.   There are still a 
lot of farm fields in western NY, so it is conceivable that there are 
regular Westerns (possibly breeding?) less than 300 miles from CT, and since 
fall dispersal and migration generally goes southeast......

To be perfectly honest with myself, Mark is correct - I never even 
considered looking at fall and winter CT meadowlarks with Western in mind. 
Unless one would have teed up at Hammo and belted out the Western song, it 
would have never occurred to me to check.

I guarantee that there are meadowlarks at Griswold Point / Great Island 
right now (it depends on where the snow cover is) - go check 'em out!

Clay Taylor
Calallen, TX (Corpus Christi)
ctaylor at att.net

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Greg Hanisek" <ghanisek at rep-am.com>
To: "Mark Szantyr" <birddog55 at charter.net>
Cc: <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>
Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2009 11:22 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

I'm glad Mark chimed back in on this. I've always found curmudgeonliness one
his more endearing traits. Anyway, I was going to make reference to the
Maritime Canada record from North American Birds (a must read publication
for any serious birder). It shows that Westerns are at times identified
outside of singing season.

There are definitely two sides to the issue of similar species pairs, where
one species is common and one very rare. The first is the default position -
one species is so common that lacking definite proof of the rare one it
makes more sense statistically and realistically to call all individuals the
common species. We're confronted with this at Ligthhouse Point with migrant
hummingbirds. We've had a couple huge days (400+ and 200+ hummers) where a
rare one could have bolted through, but it makes sense (lacking info to the
contrary) to call them all Ruby-throated.

However, Mark's original point is equally important. If you just assume all
members of these types of species pairs are the common one, we'll never
generate any records or information about the local status of the rare one.
It's always important to keep the rare ones on the radar screen, learn about
the potential for field ID etc.

Just as an interesting aside, we considered one Western Meadowlark when I
was on the NJ Records Committee. The "observer" was actually a hearer who
recorded what sounded to him like an unusual meadowlark song. He got a
really long, high quality recording that we were able to send to Wesley
Lanyon, an expert on the species pair. He confirmed it as Western
Meadowlark. If I remember correctly, one important point was that Eastern
sings many different phrases (separable on sonograms) while Western sings
just a couple over and over.

Greg Hanisek

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mark Szantyr" <birddog55 at charter.net>
To: <ctbirds at lists.ctbirding.org>; "ls.broker" <ls.broker at cox.net>
Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2009 10:50 PM
Subject: Re: [CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

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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This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA)
for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
For subscription information visit

This list is provided by the Connecticut Ornithological Association (COA) 
for the discussion of birds and birding in Connecticut.
For subscription information visit 

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