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Meadow Lark of America

Updated on August 9, 2015

Mrs Wright

The picture was taken by her husband
The picture was taken by her husband | Source

Introduction

This article is another in the series looking at the birds of North America. The text will include a description and accompanying notes of Mrs Mabel Osgood Wright, an authoress, and keen ornithologist in the 1800's. She was married to an English man and became President of the Audubon Society in the state of Connecticut in 1889.

The black and white plate is by Louis Agassiz Fuertes {1847-1927} who was a fine illustrator of many books during his life time, including books by Mrs wright.

Meadow Lark-Sturnella magna

The meadow lark belongs to the Order Passeriformes and the Family Iceridae and placed in the genus Sturnella { The starlings} hence one the birds alternative names of Meadow starling, another is the old field lark. Sturnella magna is now referred to as the Eastern meadow lark.

Every farmer knows his friend the meadow lark, that frequents the grass meadow or cereal fields where they keep well concealed among the tall stems of such herbage. When this shy bird takes to the wing the white feathers that edge the tail are conspicuous as he flies away.

When on the ground, and, even if the you get the chance to glance this short legged walker, one is unlikely to see the beautiful yellow breast, adorned with a black crescent, for they tend to turn their backs on onlookers. So well camouflaged are these birds that one could almost step on them before they take to the air with a spluttering nasal alarm call.

Eastern meadow lark

The image originally appeared on Flickr
The image originally appeared on Flickr | Source

Description and accompanying notes of Mrs Wright

Length---10.75 inches

Male and female , much variegated above, with a mottled brown colour. Bill straight and stout. The crown with brown and black streaks, black line behind the eye. Tail black with white outer quills, wings edged with yellow, under parts yellow, black crescent on throat.

Season, resident , the migrants remaining from April until October.

This abundant bird, common in the migration, and present with us all winter, is not a lark at all but a starling. It has a superb plumage, and its song is sweet and thrilling. Almost before a tinge of green has come upon the meadows, these birds are searching for worms and larvae which form a large part of their diet, and it is at this time that they show their yellow breasts, with the striking black crescent, to the best advantage if you are lucky enough to see it.

They sing from March until July, and then again after the moulting, though at that time they never equal their spring song and I have heard a few notes in January, when they are all lingering about the stubble fields. In winter they often come about the barns for food and will stand quite still, and watch me while I scatter seeds to them and other such wayfarers. The meadow lark is one of the most constant winter colony, associated with the horned lark on the shore, in meadows and with the Snowflakes in the inland fields.

Meadow lark

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes | Source

Lark or starling ? and diet.

" Up from the dewy grass, while yet ,tis dark,

On trembling pinions, sears the meadow lark;

His brilliant breast like ruddy orange glows;

From slender throat the liquid music flows"

Of the true larks which comprise the family Alaudidae, the skylark of Europe is the best known. The Horned lark is the only native species of north America. the classification of the meadow lark {as touched upon above} has been eventful. During the 1800,s systematists decided that it was not a member of the lark family and placed in the family Iceridae, which comprised the blackbirds, orioles etc. Wilson in his American ornithology places it with the larks and justifies himself in doing so by stating-" he differs from the greater part of the tribe in wanting the long straight hind claw, which is probably the reason why it as been classes with the starlings. But in particular form of its bill, in its manners, plumage and mode, and the place of building its nest, nature has clearly pointed at the proper family"

It is a bird that spends the greater part of its time on the ground where the majority of its food is procured. Even during the winter months when insect life is for the greater part dormant, it finds enough food, that is hidden below the surface of the ground or secreted among the grass to furnish a very considerable part of its diet. Over 25% of its food is composed of grasshoppers and crickets, while an equally sized proportion is made up of beetles, among them weevils, Curculio and click beetles.

The latter during the larval stage are known as wire worms, and often destroy seeds before they have germinated and as a consequence can ruin fields of corn and other grain at the outset. Meadow larks also destroy cut worm,army worm, and a great number of the pest known as the chinch bug. {Blissus leaucopterus}, that feed on the stems of the tall grasses and cultivated stems of wheat, rye etc, causing great economical damage. Indeed it is thought that there are few wild birds, if any, which have combined in them more good qualities than the meadow lark. For six months of the year the birds diet is comprised of 90% insects and during August and September this proportion may rise to 99%.

In his 'Wild Wood Notes, Mr. Cheney conveys to us --" There is an exquisite subtle tremor in the notes of the singer, no more to be described than the odor of the rose"

" Minstrel of melody,

How shall I chant thee,

Floating meadows athrill with thy song?

Fluting anear my feet,

Plaintive and wildly sweet-

Oh could thy spirit to mortal belong!

tell me thy secret art,

How thou dost touch my heart,

Hinting of happiness still unpossessed;

Say doth thy bosom burn,

Vainly as mine, and yearn

Sadly for something that leaves it unblessed?"


Illustration from the 'Birds of America'

John James Audubon
John James Audubon | Source

Nest and eggs of the meadow lark

During the breeding season the male will sing to his mate from a favourite perch, such as a rock, tree stump, fence or even a mound of grass. he has many songs in his repertoire which charms all that hear it, but the song is not intended for our enjoyment but rather for the ears of his mate only.

The nest of this species is sometimes constructed very early in April depending on the locality, or the first week of May. Very often two broods are produced. The nest is placed in any open field of grass or low cereal growth in Timothy grass or clover are favoured locations. Sometimes it may be built in tall grass near a fence or in an orchard. More rarely it may choose a lump of grass in a very open wood.

The nest is usually placed in a slight hollow in the ground with no particular effort of concealment, however, other times it is well hidden by a tussock, clump of weeds or a small bush. The bottom of the cavity is generally level with the surrounding surface. The materials chosen by this avian architect are grasses ans straws,occasionally pieces of slender weed stems and strips of bark are used. the grasses are generally long blades of blue grass or timothy grass. The main structure is well interwoven, and is the same within as without, except that the cavity exposes a better quality of material than the exterior.

The majority of nests are perfectly domed with an entrance at the side. Sometimes a walk way leads through thick vegetation to the opening. The cavity in the domed variety is nearly semi-spherical, and measures about three inches. In the more unusual open nests the cavity is of the same measurement.

The eggs which number four or five have a white ground colour very faintly tinted at times with a greenish grey colour. They are marked with blotches, spots and speckles of light yellowish or pinkish brown distributed all over the entire shell, but more abundant at the base {large end}, where sometimes they are confluent. Some eggs are marked with small spots or speckles alone.

The incubation period is about fifteen days, and both parents undertake the task. The young are able to leave the nest in about two weeks and become very adept at hiding from the slightest danger. After they are able to provide for themselves they tend to gather in small flocks and remain in the vicinity of the nest until the latter part of October.

During this period the flocks are loose not compact, and when they alight on bushes it is generally on the top most branches From there they render a song somewhat melancholy, yet with a hint of sweetness reminiscent of the warblers. This sometimes followed by a kind of low rapid chattering-the particular call of the female!

Nest and eggs of the meadow lark

The illustration represents the nest and four eggs taken in April 1882. It is a good specimen of the domed variety
The illustration represents the nest and four eggs taken in April 1882. It is a good specimen of the domed variety | Source

Illustration

Source

Inspired poetry to the meadow lark.

" Little puff of feathers,

Gray brown and gold,

When your slim throat gathers,

More than it can hold, Of the merry mellow madness,

That your heart distills, You pour it forth in gladness,

Drenching fields and hills.

Your notes come spilling golden,

Like bubbles of old wine;

I expand my heart to hold in,

Your ectasies divine!

Little feathered creature,

On that zigzag fence,

Your God's most fervent preacher,

From your eminence.

You scatter bits of heaven-

If only man's heart had,

Half your bird's joy ever,

The whole world would be glad"

{Ralph Bacon}

Comments

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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave 

      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice, Hi Deb I thought you would be familiar with this species. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      So sweet and endearing, this lovely bird can be so elusive at times. At other times, it stands in trees singing boldly, just to be noticed.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave 

      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Eddy, thank you for your appreciated comments. I know you are a fan of nature. Best wishes to you.

      DDE, nice to see you here again, and once again your comments are kind and most welcome. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      MEADOW LARK OF AMERICA looks a lovely bird and lots to know about it, you always think of a unique bird.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      5 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and well presented.

      Voted up.

      Eddy.

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