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Western Meadowlark

Montana State Bird

Western meadowlark; photo by Dave Soldano on Flickr (noncommercial use permitted with attribution / no derivative works).

Official State Bird of Montana

The western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) was designated the official state bird of Montana in 1931. A familiar songbird of open country in the western two-thirds of North America - the western meadowlark was chosen overwhelmingly by Montana's school children to represent the state (Wyoming, North Dakota, Oregon, and Kansas also adopted the western meadowlark as their state bird). All State Birds

According to Montana Office of Tourism, Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) not only "discovered" the bitterroot (Montana's state flower), but was also the first to record a description of the bird that was to become a state symbol of Montana; "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."

Western Meadowlark Facts

In the same family as blackbirds and orioles, adult western meadowlarks have a black and white striped head; long, pointed bill; yellow cheeks; bright yellow throat; and a distinctive black "V" on breast. The western meadowlark is often seen perched on fence-posts in grasslands and agricultural areas singing its distinct 7-10 note melody (their flute-like song usually ends with 3 descending notes).

Western meadowlarks forage on the ground and beneath the soil for insects, grain and weed seeds (it's estimated that at least 65-70% of their diet consists of beetles, cutworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, sow bugs, and snails). They also nest on the ground - constructing a cup of dried grasses and bark woven into the surrounding vegetation. This nest may be open or have a partial or full grass roof, and sometimes a grass entry tunnel several feet long.

Western meadowlark predators include hawks, crows, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, and weasels. Western meadowlarks are still abundant but declining throughout their range; they are a protected non-game species.