Posts Tagged ‘Western Meadowlark’

My mom recently asked me about the migratory habits of the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta).  I gave her what I knew off the top of my head, but realized that I did not know all that much detail on the subject, and so I went reading.  What surprised me most in what I found was just how little there was to find.  For being such a common species, there is a great deal that has not been recorded about their migratory biology.  For example, even the sizes of the flocks that Western Meadowlarks migrate in are not well documented.  This is a common situation for short and medium distance migrants, as much more focus has been on the study of long distance migrants.

Here is some of what is known.  After the breeding season, small loose flocks start to assemble.  This is usually in September and October depending on location.  These flocks can overwinter if conditions are mild, or they may migrate together if conditions are harsh.  In the northern and central portions of their range, Western Meadowlarks are diurnal migrants, and they can travel as far south as central Mexico.  While this can include individuals moving a distance of up to 1000 km (as indicated by a small number of band recoveries), most Western Meadowlarks seem to follow a pattern where the whole population moves a bit south as a loose unit, so the northern most breeding population will remain the northern most non-breeding population.  Birds that breed at higher elevations tend to be altitudinal migrants moving downslope during winter.  During migration and the non-breeding season, they generally seek out suitable habitat in sheltered valleys during periods of harsh weather.  Western Meadowlarks are actually non-migratory in much of the southern portions of their geographic range, a belt that stretches from Kansas to California.  Even less in known about the spring migration of this species, but migrants generally return to breeding grounds in March and April.

So, keep your eyes out for Western Meadowlark flocks.  You never know what you may learn!

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