Identification and Behaviour
Arrival to Breeding Grounds
In Ontario, males arrive in the breeding grounds in April from as far as 1000 km away. They are followed by females roughly 2-4 weeks after. Breeding males are fiercely territorial, often physically defending their domain. In Canada, the bulk of Eastern Meadowlark populations breed in Ontario. Their preferred habitat and breeding grounds are large tracts of grassland habitats, which are in decline across their migratory range. Populations of Eastern Meadowlark are in decline because of the threats to their habitat, nest predation and pesticide use.
Courtship and Breeding
Mating pairs are established as soon as the females arrive, and the courtship consists of song duets and aerial chases. A male Eastern Meadowlark can have up to 2 mates at the same time.
Listen to the calls here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Meadowlark/id
Nests are situated on the ground, and are vulnerable to haying activities. Their nests take about a week for the females to construct and are about 20cm across and 5cm deep. They are often situated in a small depression- such as a cow footprint- to make the nest difficult to see. People should be very cautious approaching meadowlarks during nesting, as the female will abandon incubation of her eggs if she is forced off the nest.
The eggs of the Eastern Meadowlark are incubated by the females for 13-15 days. They produce four or five eggs per clutch, though the nest success (number of nests producing at least one hatchling) is low.
Caring for nestlings
Nestlings are unable to fly, or feed themselves, and rely on their parents for food. During this life stage, adults can be observed carrying insects to their nests
Nestlings leave the nest (fledge) after 10-12 days. Young birds fledge when they have developed enough muscle mass and initial flight feathers required to fly. After fledging, the young continue to be fed by adults for upward of two weeks.
The Eastern Meadowlark begins its fall migration in early September.
Feeding throughout breeding season
During the breeding period, the Eastern Meadowlark feeds on mainly insects and plant matter. They prefer feeding on crickets and grasshoppers
COSEWIC. (2011). COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. X+ 40pp. http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_eastern_meadowlark_0911_eng.pdf .
Hull, S. D. (2003). Effects of management practices on grassland birds: Eastern Meadowlark. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND. Retrieved from https://pubs.usgs.gov/unnumbered/70159908/report.pdf
McCracken, J., Reid, R.A., Renfrew, R., Frei, B., Jalava, J., Cowie, A., et al. (2013). Recovery Strategy for the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) in Ontario. Peterborough, Ontario: Ontario Recovery Strategy Series.