Talking Nature: Musical call of the meadowlark

By Ron Taube

Contributing Writer

Meadowlarks

In the silver light after a storm,

Under dripping boughs of bright new green,

I take the low path to hear the meadowlarks

Alone and high-hearted as if I were a queen.

What have I to fear in life or death

Who have known three things: the kiss in the night,

The white flying joy when a song is born,

And meadowlarks whistling in silver light.

Poem by Sara Teasdale

I am no poet but I had similar feelings about meadowlarks just a few weeks ago when I was walking with some friends at Fish Lake Park in East Bethel toward sunset, only this time after a warm beautiful day.

Eastern meadowlark Photo by Ron Taube
Eastern meadowlark Photo by Ron Taube

We parked on the east side of the park and were barely out of our car when we heard the melodic calls of several meadowlarks ahead of us. The east side of the park is bordered with an old-style wooden fence and we soon saw two meadowlarks on the posts while others flew back and forth. The call is flute-like and musical, and we all felt like we were in paradise for the moment anyway. As we walked along the grassy trail we heard them call each other repeatedly, and it was very soothing to hear.

Meadowlarks come in two similar but different varieties. There is the eastern meadowlark that we saw that evening and the western meadowlark that, at least around Minnesota, is less common. They look so much alike that even bird experts have some work ahead of them differentiating the two through looks alone. The most distinctive difference is the call. The eastern meadowlark call is described as “sweet, lazy whistles,” whereas “western meadowlarks have a richer, chortling song and also give diagnostic chuck calls,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

The two varieties have long, pointed beaks, yellow on the throat and above the eye, and a black V area on the upper breast and neck. The differences in looks are mainly in the brightness of the yellow and white along the cheeks.

I have been in places, such as the Industrial Park outside of Randolph, Minnesota, where I have heard western meadowlarks on one side of the road and eastern meadowlarks on the other side within minutes of each other.

The adult eastern meadowlark is from 7 1/2 inches to 11 inches long and has a wingspan that is 14-16 inches. They weigh 2.7 oz to 5.3 oz . They love prairies and hay fields. They eat arthropods, seeds and berries. There may be more than one nesting female in a male’s territory and their nest is on the ground covered with woven grasses.

I went back to Fish Lake Park a few days later with another friend of mine and we sat in a light rain and watched as one meadowlark flew from a perch on a dead tree into the grass, then into other trees, then back to the dead tree. He flew quickly and I had great difficulty getting photos of him in flight. I have more photos on my website, including a video where of him singing in the rain at this link: http://bit.ly/2pvdHJm. If you want to learn more about meadowlarks, go to www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Meadowlark/id.