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What is the State Bird of Kansas? (And Why?)

Kansas is the 15th largest state in the US and the 35th most populous. It is well known for its large plains, rivers and state parks. The state animal for Kansas is the American Buffalo, but what is the state bird?

The state of Kansas chose the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) as the state bird in 1937. The medium-sized, brightly colored, streaked, spotted meadowlark bird with its thoughtful, introspective look, seems to consider all that Kansas offers from its perch in the state’s open grasslands. This carnivore mostly eats bugs but will make do with seeds and berries when it must.

The state bird for Kansas, the Western Meadowlark

The state bird for Kansas, the Western Meadowlark

Why is the Western Meadowlark the state bird for Kansas?

The Sunflower State, Kansas, chose the wild meadowlark for its state bird. This bird settled down in the sunflower fields of the state and resounded with the children of the state. The bright yellow of its stomach and chest matches the sunflower blooms perfectly. The Kansas Audubon Society conducted a survey of the state’s 121,000 school children that resulted in the Western Meadowlark as the choice for state bird. The meadowlark received 43,895 votes, while the closest competitors were the Bobwhite and the Cardinal.

When did the Western Meadowlark become the state bird for Kansas?

The state of Kansas waited until 1937 to name its state bird. Once the contest finished and the schoolchildren’s votes counted, the legislature of the state named the bird as the state bird in legislation, making it a law. Kansas shares the Western meadowlark as a state bird with Montana, Oregon, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Western Meadowlark singing from a post

Western Meadowlark singing from a post

What does the state bird of Kansas look like?

This member of the blackbird family brightens the grassy areas of Kansas with its yellow-breasted feathers. It features some unique characteristics, including a V-shaped band of black.

The Western meadowlark grows a black and gray beak. It features tan and brown feathers with black and white markings.

From head to tail, the Western meadowlark measures 6.5 to 10 inches in length. Its wingspan reaches 16 inches. These little birds weigh between three and four ounces.

Western Meadowlark on the ground

Western Meadowlark on the ground

How do these birds behave?

Meadowlarks remain active during the daytime. At night, they quietly move into cover and stay quiet. You will not hear them sing at night. These birds make their nests on the ground in sparse shrubs and grasses. Since they do not remain out of the reach of predators, they have honed their ability to live stealthily once the sun sets in the sky. You won’t find them in forests or even in thick shrubs.

The male western meadowlark establishes its breeding ground before the arrival of females of its kind. It might spend up to a month defending its territory before females arrive. Like many other birds, the male and female use song – mating calls – to meet. Their tweeting has been described as flute-like or sounding like a whistle. The female of this bird coos a “tee-tee-tee” call while she builds her nest and while laying eggs.

Finding one another while the female gathers nest materials, they construct the nest and breed. Unlike most of the birds, meadowlark males breed with two females per season. These busy dads bring food to both nests and spend time with both of their families, contributing to the rearing of the chicks. Once the children hatch from the eggs, the doting mom and dad fiercely protect them.

Ironically, they will desert a nest with eggs though if a human appears. The incubating eggs get left behind, making it imperative that you never approach a meadowlark’s nest, and you never allow your child to either. For other intruders on their privacy, the male meadowlark will noisily chase any away regardless of the predator’s size. The father bird does this guard duty at both nests to protect his young. When you look up in Kansas, you will probably spot a territorial male Western Meadowlark guarding his broods. Look for these birds to perch on electric or telephone wires, fences, or poles. From these heights, they can observe a large area all at once and spot predators that could otherwise threaten their nests.

Western Meadowlark in flight

Western Meadowlark in flight

Do Western meadowlarks form communities?

Meadowlarks form nuclear families despite the males having two families. These birds are monogamous but don’t mate for life with one female. They keep two separate domiciles and provide for both families equally. This means that the male of this species constantly hunts. They drop the food off at each nest and the female bird feeds the baby birds.

The incubation period for their eggs lasts about 13 to 16 days. Once baby birds mature, they leave the nest, typically at about two weeks old. They can’t fly yet, so their parents continue to look after them as they explore the grassland. At about five to six weeks of age, they begin flying. This lets them explore further and establish their own hunting area.

They may relocate. This migratory bird spends its winters in the southern US states and Mexico. In warm weather months, these birds fly as far north as Canada. The birds migrate back to their summer habitat in Canada during late April or early May. The western meadowlark can travel as far as the breeding grounds of the eastern meadowlark. The two sub-species will mate when needed. Their offspring won’t be as virile as it would have if two eastern meadowlarks or two western meadowlarks had mated.

Western Meadowlark with a beak full of insects

Western Meadowlark with a beak full of insects

What do Western Meadowlarks eat?

Meadowlarks rotate their diet depending on the time of year. Meadowlarks munch on grain seeds and berries. The Kansas residents of this gourmet bird of the blackbird family dine on grasshoppers, while in other states, these birds also eat other insects.

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