Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
Eastern MeadowlarkEastern Meadowlark distribution map


Population Information

The Federal BBS information can be obtained at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/bbs.html by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for time period (1966-2005).

Life History

Habitat Selection

Eastern Meadowlarks are a dominant species in pastures, idle short-medium height grasslands, old field, Grassland-shrub, dry-mesic prairie and oak savannah. They prefer medium density, high litter layer, with some forb content and few shrubs (5% or less) although they will tolerate up to 30% shrubs (Sample 1989 and Sample and Mossman 1997). Eastern Meadowlark pairs may be attracted to open grasslands as small as 20 acres (8 ha), although larger acreage is needed to sustain a viable population (Sample and Mossman 1997). In Wisconsin, the Eastern Meadowlark usually prefers more moist grasslands than Western meadowlarks (Lanyon 1953). Eastern Meadowlarks nest usually in fairly dense vegetation (Lanyon 1995).

Habitat Availability

Pastures with light grazing, hayfields with delayed mowing, and managed idle/CRP fields with the appropriate vegetation structure are important for maintaining the Eastern Meadowlark population in Wisconsin (Renfrew and Sample 2002). While these habitats are common throughout the state, they are also vulnerable to conversion to row crops and development. Idle grassland, Grassland-shrub, dry-mesic prairie, and oak savannah are uncommon and also vulnerable to conversion, fragmentation, and succession to shrubs and trees if not properly managed. Many native prairies are too small and isolated to maintain Meadowlark populations on their own (Sample and Mossman 1997). With so little native grassland left in tact, habitat availability will be dependent upon the intensity of agricultural practices and amount of land enrolled into CRP. The more intensive the agriculture (row crops, frequent hay cuttings, fewer fallow fields) the less available habitat there will be for Eastern Meadowlarks.

Population Concerns

Historically the Eastern Meadowlark was very common in the southern half of the state (northern half was heavily forested). They spread throughout the state with the increase of deforestation and are still found statewide where suitable open habitat exists (Robbins 1991). However, Wisconsin breeding bird surveys have shown a significant decline since the 1960’s (Sauer et al. 2003). A probable cause of the decline is the intensification of agricultural practices and lack of large scale native prairies causing a significant reduction in habitat availability (Sample and Mossman 1997). A compromise between agricultural needs and the preservation of habitat is necessary to maintain the habitat needed for the population to stabilize or rebound.

Recommended Management

Grassland restoration and management for Eastern Meadowlarks should seek to create large patches of habitat with a variety of successional stages and types (Hull 2003). It is best to delay mowing until mid to late July to avoid nest destruction (Sample and Mossman 1997). Fields left idle, like CRP fields, are good substitutes for native prairie. However; managers should periodically disturb these fields (3-5 years) to limit woody encroachment and to increase forb diversity (Hull 2003). Moderate grazing levels are compatible with this and other grassland bird species (Hull 2003, Sample and Mossman 1997). Eastern Meadowlarks are susceptible to human disturbance at the nest especially during the incubation stage (Lanyon 1995).

Research Needs

Continued population monitoring is needed to continue documentation of population status. Due to their nearly identical appearance, the extent of hybridization with Western meadowlark is unknown. Data is also needed on possible effects of cowbird parasitism (Lanyon 1995). Continuation of productivity studies are important to determine and better model the future population trends and better identify habitats that are resourceful for Eastern Meadowlarks (Kershner et al. 2004).

Information Sources



Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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