[CT Birds] More on Meadowlarks

Chris Elphick elphick at sbcglobal.net
Fri Jan 9 08:46:07 EST 2009

Since others have said a lot of what I was going to, I'll just add a couple of things.

First, Pyle's book begins "From Western Meadowlark with caution; this is one of the most difficult IN-HAND [my emphasis] species identification problems."

Second, even meadowlark vocalizations can be a bit tricky because songs are learned (so individuals of one species who learn song in an area with both species might learn phrases from the other species) and there is sharing of call notes between species.  This information on vocalization became available in the sixties, and I suspect might account for the drop off in reports of northeastern Westerns over the next decade - as people realized that identification was even harder than they'd assumed.

Third, Greg is right about Westerns having less complex songs than Easterns - this is discussed in the "big" Sibley, along with tips for how to use the difference when identifying meadowlarks by song.

Lastly, the paper on meadowlark taxonomy is in the October issue of the Auk (Barker et al. vol 125, pp. 869-879).  It provides pretty compelling evidence that Lillian's Meadowlark is as distinct from Eastern as it is from Western - and thus deserves full species status (various other pieces of evidence have pointed to this split, but the molecular work supports long separation among the three groups).  Publication of research in the Auk is a long way from acceptance of the split, but it is likely that the AOU Check-list committee will now take the issue up.  My guess is that, with molecular, morphological and vocal evidence all now showing differences among groups, a split will happen within the next couple of years.  The authors also suggest that the Cuban form on Eastern might be a distinct species too.

So, I think it is only fair to force Mark to eliminate Lillian's for every meadowlark he reports.


Chris Elphick

Storrs, CT

elphick at sbcglobal.net

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