On a brisk April morning I quietly snuck down to the spot where just the day before I spotted a singing meadowlark. The field was quiet at first, then a faint rattle and an even fainter “spring of the ye-ar” call drifted over me. Led by the song, I walked toward the farmhouse along a hedgerow until the song grew stronger. Scanning in the direction of the song, I saw two birds in the bare treetops. My telephoto isn’t too shabby, but the distance was too great for me to fill the frame and get the detail I need. I settled in for about ten minutes when miraculously the birds dropped from their high perches and flew overhead, one landing in the field thirty yards away and the other on the fence post you see above. He proceeded to sing his melody for three minutes while I managed a burst of shots from two positions, trying not to alert him to my presence. My hands completely numb, I retreated to the car and blasted the heat.
This bird is one of our most vulnerable grassland species. Each spring I hope for a good look at a breeding pair on our rail trail—or if we’re lucky—two pairs. They nest on the ground, a somewhat risky plan, but if the farmers manage their fields for tall, lush grass, it works out well for both the meadowlarks and bobolinks. Kudos to Consider Bardwell Farm and Wayward Goose Farm for their important conservation land management efforts.
Eastern meadowlarks are a declining species. Populations fell approximately 2.6% per year between 1966 and 2019, resulting in a cumulative decline of 75%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Because our grassland habitat is declining, so are these birds. It’s the mission of the Grassland Bird Trust to preserve as much of this habitat as possible. Do you manage a large grassland or know someone who does? They can help! To learn more about their work, as well as the species under the greatest threat, click here.