Sunday, November 27, 2016

Western Meadowlark

A sunny yellow bird to brighten your rainy day! (Yes, even here in San Diego.)

Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark. Ramona, California. October 30, 2016. Greg Gillson.
Western Meadowlarks were once much more common than they are today. They are most common in native grasslands in North America--a habitat that is mostly gone. Such grasslands have been converted to strip malls, cattle ranches, and agricultural lands. As ground nesters, they need larger tracts of grasslands to hide their nests from coyotes, foxes, dogs, and cats, or being stepped on by cows and sheep. They can breed in most grasslands--it doesn't have to be native--as long as it is undisturbed from March to August. So fields of grain harvested in May or June as well as urbanization eliminates these pretty birds from former breeding areas.

In my lifetime I have seen these wonderful birds with their loud and joyously bubbly songs virtually eliminated as breeding birds from the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. I know this is true because even the European Starlings in western Oregon don't imitate Western Meadowlarks any more as they frequently did in the past--the last starlings to have heard meadowlarks have evidently all died of old age.

Western Meadowlark

Meadowlarks can be found breeding still in the sagebrush and open ranch lands of eastern Oregon, and found in western Oregon in winter.

Here in San Diego they breed in some native grasslands in the foothill. Such is the case at the Ramona Grasslands Preserve where I photographed this bird. Admittedly, though, this bird is likely a visitor from elsewhere that had joined the large flocks gathered here for winter. Birds in the center of the continent migrate south into Mexico, but many more move west to winter in milder areas, such as coastal dunes and lowland pastures along the West Coast.

So even though they are less common now, you can still see them if you drive the roads through open farm country, especially in winter.