Plants and Animals

Sturnella neglecta Western meadowlark

Key Characteristics

Meadowlarks have yellow breasts with a black V like the Dickcissel but are much larger, browner, and have a longer bill. Western meadowlarks and the much more common Eastern meadowlark are superficially similar. The best characteristic to use in order to distinguish between the meadowlarks is their song. The Western meadowlark song begins with several whistled notes and ends with an ascending gurgle while the Eastern meadowlark has a series of clear whistled notes that sound like "see you see errrrr" or "spring is hee-er".

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S4 - Apparently secure


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Berrien 1 2007
Hillsdale 1 2005
Kalamazoo 1 2018
Ontonagon 1 2007
Sanilac 1 2007
Wayne 1 2007

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


Western meadowlarks nest in many grassy habitats including pastures, hayfields, and old fields and seem to prefer drier sites than the Eastern meadowlark. Reports of individuals and confirmed breeding are scattered throughout the state but more commonly on the west side of the state.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

As with virtually all grassland birds, grasslands, fields, and roadsides should not be mowed until after the nesting season to allow young to fledge. Herbicide or insecticide applications may also reduce the nesting success rate due to increased predation or abandonment or reduce the prey base and lead to starvation of the nestlings. Periodic mowing, brush clearing, or prescribed burning may be necessary to stem encroachment by woody vegetation. Grazing may also be used as a management technique to control shrub encroachment but grazing pressure should be limited to avoid livestock crushing nests.

Active Period

Migration from third week of March to fourth week of April

Migration from first week of September to first week of November

Nesting from fourth week of April to fourth week of June

Survey Methods

Conduct point counts, transects, or roadside surveys in suitable habitat listening for the song more than looking for the birds because of the ease with which they may be mistaken with Eastern Meadowlarks. Unless a bird is observed closeup and the identification is positive, areas where meadowlarks are observed but not heard singing may warrant checking again at a later date when they may be singing. Meadowlarks often sing from fenceposts, utility wires, or other high perches.

Point counts, transects, visual

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Morning (sunrise)


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, Toronto. 544pp.