Spotlight on the Eastern Meadowlark
No idyllic scene of grassland habitat is complete without a meadowlark singing from atop a fence-post, but unfortunately this sight is becoming increasingly rare in the Commonwealth. The eastern meadowlark is arguably the grassland bird species that has been hardest hit by the loss of grassland habitat in Massachusetts. According to our findings in the Breeding Bird Atlas 2, this species has disappeared from more than 75 percent of its 1979 distribution, and its breeding range in Massachusetts is now quite restricted.
Despite its bright coloration, the meadowlark is actually a member of the blackbird family, Icteridae. During the summer, meadowlarks may be seen along farm roads displaying their bold yellow chests from a nearby fence post, telephone pole, or tree, where their rich melodic song can be heard. Meadowlarks nest on the ground in dead grass clumps or under overhanging grasses and can be found in a variety of grassland types, including hay and alfalfa fields, shrubby overgrown fields, and pastures.
Some agricultural practices may negatively affect eastern meadowlark breeding success. Early summer mowing of hayfields is detrimental to meadowlark nests and young. Haying and mowing during the breeding season can cause egg, chick, and adult mortality.
Livestock grazing may significantly alter grassland habitat, making it unsuitable for eastern meadowlarks, particularly if the grazing intensity is high or if grazing occurs during the breeding season. Livestock can also trample nests and will occasionally eat the eggs if they stumble across a nest. Additionally, pesticide use can be detrimental to eastern meadowlarks as well as other grassland species.
Mass Audubon continues to monitor populations of eastern meadowlarks within Massachusetts and New England. In addition we are working on a number of outreach programs and projects to help protect this iconic grassland species.
Read more about our work and keep up to date on specific projects by following Distraction Displays, our Bird Conservation blog.