Montana State Bird - Western Meadowlark


Western Meadowlark

(Sturnella neglecta)
Adopted in 1931.

This bird is known for its loud, cheerful chirps. It is about as big as a robin with a bright yellow chest and throat under a black collar. It builds its nest on the ground and lays between three and seven white eggs with purple and brown spots. The eggs only take two weeks to hatch. It can be found in spring and summer along most dirt roads, sitting on fence posts singing to other meadowlarks nearby. Lewis and Clark were the first to write about the western meadowlark in 1805 and it was chosen for state bird in 1931.

To Meriwether Lewis goes the distinction of not only "discovering" the Bitterroot, but first recording what became Montana's state bird. Under the date of June 22, 1805, Lewis noted in his journal the appearance of a lark with a yellow breast and black spot on the throat. It resembled in size, action, and color the eastern lark with which he was more familiar, but the song was richer and more varied.

The western meadowlark's cheerful song, consisting of a loud, clear, warbling whistle, makes him easily recognizable. His peculiar flight habits, several short, rapid wing beats alternated with brief periods of sailing, also make the western meadowlark very recognoizable. This bird has its nest on the ground in a hidden spot and has from three to seven eggs of mixed white, brown and purple.

The western meadowlark has captivated the attention and interest of Montanans from Lewis to the present. When asked in 1930 which bird best represented Montana, the state's school children responded overwhelmingly with the meadowlark. Legislators agreed the next session, and in 1931, the western meadowlark (Sturnella-Neglecta: Audubon) added its song as another official representative of the Big Sky Country.

  • Length: 8.5 inches
  • Sharply-pointed bill
  • Buff and brown head stripes
  • Yellow underparts with black "v" on breast
  • White flanks with black streaks
  • Brown upperparts with black streaks
  • Brown tail with white outer tail feathers
  • Juvenile and winter plumages somewhat duller
  • Frequents open habitats
Kingdom Animalia -- animals
   Phylum Chordata -- chordates
      Subphylum Vertebrata -- vertebrates
         Class Aves -- birds
            Order Passeriformes -- perching birds
               Family Fringillidae -- buntings, finches, grosbeaks, old world finches, sparrows
                  Genus Sturnella Vieillot, 1816 -- meadowlarks
                     Species Sturnella neglecta Audubon, 1844 -- Pradero occidental, western meadowlark