Birding Today: Eastern Meadowlark research project continues through winter – Muskogee Daily Phoenix

Some clouds. Low 27F. Winds light and variable..
Some clouds. Low 27F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: November 15, 2022 @ 5:54 pm
There are at least 16 subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark found in the U.S.

There are at least 16 subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark found in the U.S.
“Spring-of-the-Year! Spring-of-the-Year!”
This famous pneumonic rings euphoric in the early spring when we are awaiting old friends with familiar faces, but this fall and winter will be another research project involving the Eastern Meadowlark.
Over seven hundred million grassland birds have been lost in North America since 1970, over a half-century ago mostly for reasons of intensive agriculture.
We must understand fall and winter movements of this species in order to be able to help their cause better, as well as their non-breeding habitat. The sound of this bird has been ringing less and less during migration, and even less is known about that as well as breeding patterns. For those of us fortunate enough to witness courtship rituals, that is just as important.
Since this bird winters in both the southern U.S. and Mexico, scientists will be following the tagged birds that were fitted with geolocators in Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Indiana during the past spring. We must now know their winter habitat and how they spend it. Most of the birds spend their time on private land like ranches, and scientists have been working with property owners who want to conserve these valuable grassland birds as much as they do.
Through additional study, we know that there are at least 16 subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark found in the U.S. Through genetic research we have learned that the pale southwestern bird, known as Lilian’s Meadowlark, is a separate species. Since it resides in the desert grasslands with a different song and separate breeding range, it clearly differs from the birds in the northern part of the meadowlark range. It also has more white in its tail and a somewhat lower pitched song, as well as the paler overall plumage, though a bolder head pattern than the western species. The paler plumage is a common trait with many southwestern birds.
The Western Meadowlark also is the owner of a different song and call, but it clearly is also a different species.
Voice seems to be the most reliable indicator for the identification of meadowlark, but it is also something that is necessary to combine with other differences that mark the other species. The caveat includes the fact that many of these birds can learn the incorrect song for their species, but pitch seems to be the most dead set giveaway, which is higher in the birds of the east, as well as the repertoire size of the male. There are generally fewer than ten songs of the western persuasion, compared with fifty to one hundred songs of the eastern male.
Birds usually use the same song multiple times before changing it, and imitated songs are usually not perfect imitations. Though wrong songs are much less variable, intermediate calls are sometimes heard through extended listening and recordings.
Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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