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Meadowlarks are among my favorite birds. They’re beautiful, with their bright yellow breasts and abdomens and their graceful bodies. I never see these insectivores in the desert around our Tucson home. By contrast they are a common sight in the grasslands of Sonoita and Patagonia, the San Rafael Valley, and the agricultural flatlands to our northwest.
I photographed a couple of Meadowlarks the other morning while driving through Sonoita. It was very early in the day and the birds were actively hunting. The first individual was drying its plumage as I photographed it. The grass — very dense and bright green as a result of recent heavy rainfall — was soaked with dew and so was the bird.
I ran across a second Meadowlark just a minute or two later. This bird had stuffed its beak with insects.
Why would a bird hold on to so many insects rather than swallow each of them as it captured them? I’ve observed this behavior — amassing insects without swallowing — with other species, most recently, a Phainopepla, and I think I know what the Meadowlark was up to. It had accumulated food to be fed to its young, either nestlings, or recently fledged birds still dependent on their parents for food.
There are two species of Meadowlarks –Eastern and Western — that inhabit our grasslands. The difference in plumage between the two species is so subtle that, apparently, even experts have a difficult time distinguishing one from the other. Their songs are quite different, however, and that difference is usually the reliable basis for identifying which species an individual bird belongs to. None of the birds that I saw were singing, so I’ll just call these individuals “Meadowlarks.”
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/3200.