Male Eastern Meadowlark, Displaying And Singing
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Today’s images are a first for me: a male Eastern Meadowlark, displaying and singing.
Meadowlarks are grassland inhabitants. In the winter our local grasslands are visited by thousands of Western Meadowlarks. I’ve photographed them often in the agricultural flatlands between Tucson and Phoenix and in the grasslands of Sonoita and Patagonia, southeast of Tucson. But, there is another species of Meadowlark that inhabits our local grasslands and that is the Eastern Meadowlark.
The differences between the species are minor. Western Meadowlarks tend to have beige colored cheeks (Malars) and plumage that is a bit less contrasty than the plumage of Eastern Meadowlarks. Here’s an image of a Western Meadowlark that I posted a couple of months ago.
Eastern Meadowlarks tend have white or whitish cheeks, and somewhat more contrasty plumage. In truth, I can’t really tell the species apart just by casual observation.
The other day, Louisa and I were driving through grasslands in Patagonia, when I observed and photographed this bird.
I assumed that it was another Western Meadowlark, albeit a very pretty one, and thought nothing more about it until I examined it closely on my computer. There’s something definitely different about this bird. It has much more white on its face than does the first bird and its plumage definitely shows more contrast. But, that’s not what clinched the identification for me. What’s important about the bird for identification purposes is that it is here now and that this bird was singing in order to attract a mate.
A critical difference between Western and Eastern Meadowlarks in southern Arizona is that the Westerns are migratory whereas the Easterns are year-round residents. Every autumn tens of thousands of Westerns from the northern plains descend on our area. They return north in late March or very early April to breed. This is not a breeding area for the Western Meadowlarks. The Westerns pretty much all went home a few weeks ago. But, Eastern Meadowlarks in this area aren’t migratory, they’re year-round residents. So, a Meadowlark displaying and singing for a mate in mid-April in southern Arizona is one that is interested in breeding and is certainly an Eastern Meadowlark.
This is a first for me. Many years ago when Louisa and I lived in central Florida we’d see Eastern Meadowlarks frequently. That’s not the case here. Westerns, when they are here, greatly outnumber the Easterns, so much so that during the fall and winter months encountering an Eastern Meadowlark is like finding a penny of a particular date in a pile of pennies. It’s a different story, obviously, during breeding season .
The first image made with a Canon 5Diii, the second and third images made with a Canon 5Div. All photos shot with a 100-400 f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture preferred setting. The first image shot at ISO 800, f8 @ 1/640. The second and third images shot at ISO 640, f10 @ 1/800.