Bird of the Week: Eastern Meadowlark

…Or is that a Western Meadowlark? As is so often the case in central Texas, which straddles the boundary between eastern and western birds of all kinds, we have the mixed blessing of playing host to both species. “Mixed” because these two birds are nearly identical in appearance (though with distinct songs and calls), making for challenging ID– even for an experienced birder. In general, Eastern Meadowlarks can be found year-round in eastern Texas, while Western Meadowlarks are winter residents. Unlike some species with overlapping ranges, the two species of Meadowlark almost never hybridize, and in fact will compete for nesting sites. Strangely, both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks also bear an uncanny resemblance to a totally unrelated African bird called the Longclaw, which confused the naturalist Carolus Linnaeus enough to consider the three birds part of a single species, and list the species’ range as “America, Africa.” Although the taxonomic confusion has been resolved, the mystery of the visual resemblance between Meadowlarks and Longclaws remains, as their coloration and pattern do not seem to have any adaptive advantage. Mostly inconspicuous during breeding season, both species of Meadowlark are common throughout the area in fall and winter; listen closely for a song or call to determine the species.

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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