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

The state of Nebraska is known for its rolling plains that span across the state. It is the 16th largest state by area and the 37th most populous. The state animal for Nebraska is the White-tailed Deer, but what is the state bird?

When driving through the state of Nebraska, you might spot a streak of yellow and tan fliting by you. You found a Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), the state’s bird since 1929. This medium-sized colorful bird isn’t a lark at all but a blackbird. Known for its thoughtful gaze due to the male of the species’ protective nature of its partner and offspring, the bird tends to perch above the buttes and prairies.

The state bird of Nebraska, the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

The state bird of Nebraska, the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)

Why is the Western meadowlark the state bird for Nebraska?

The women of The Cornhusker State chose the Western Meadowlark, also known as the wild meadowlark, for its state bird. This bird settled down in among its prairies, buttes, and bluffs, flitting among its mountains and wilderness, easily discernable with its bright yellow stomach and chest.

When did the Western meadowlark become the state bird for Nebraska?

The state of Nebraska waited until March 22, 1929, to name its state bird. Once the Nebraska Federation of Women's Clubs (NFWC) convention finished its vote, they approached Rep. F. C. Rundle of Hamilton County to introduce a joint and concurrent resolution that declared the western meadowlark the state bird. The resolution passed, and then-governor Adam McMullen signed the bill into law. Nebraska shares the western meadowlark as a state bird with five states - Kansas, Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Western Meadowlark in flight

Western Meadowlark in flight

What does the state bird of Nebraska look like?

In other states, you will see the wild meadowlark in pastures and grasslands, but in Nebraska, search for this spiky-tailed bird in the buttes, mountain bluffs, and the prairies at the base of its mountains.

While admiring the steely gray of the state’s buttes, you should keep watch for a medium-sized bird with tan and brown feathers and a vibrant yellow breast.

The three to four ounce bird features white and black markings with a black band in a V-shape band and a sharply pointed gray and black beak. Its other easily spotted feature is its outer tail feathers in white.

The wild meadowlark’s wingspan reaches up to 16 inches, but the birds only grow to between 6.5 to 10 inches long. Its wingspan reaches 16 inches.

Close up of a Western Meadowlark, calling for a mate

Close up of a Western Meadowlark, calling for a mate

How do these birds behave?

In Nebraska, you can most easily spot this bird during spring and fall migration. During summer, the meadowlark blankets the state with its presence except for the southeastern-most counties. The bird winters in southern Nebraska.

You won’t see them at night because they hide in deep cover to protect themselves. They do not sing at night either, so no sound gives them away. Your best bet is to spot the meadowlark during the day while the male perches on poles, tree limbs, and other high perches to remain on guard for those trying to enter its breeding ground or approach its family’s nests.

While the wild meadowlark constructs nests on the ground, it avoids thick shrubs and forests. The male finds the breeding ground, while once he mates, the female chooses the nest location. The two birds build the nest together. He may have to defend his breeding ground for up to a month before females arrive.

The female and male of the species use mating calls in the form of song to meet. They sound like a whistle or flute. The female bird chooses her mate by his song, but the male chooses two females per breeding season. While he may seem a playboy, the male meadowlark provides for both of his families equally. Both females construct nests within his breeding ground, and he guards both. He also contributes to both nests and hunts for food for both families.

Western Meadowlark perched on a post

Western Meadowlark perched on a post

The female coos a “tee-tee-tee” call as she gathers material to build her nest. The nest of this bird has an axis of about seven to eight inches with a width of two to three inches and a depth of four to five inches. She fills it with dry grasses and bits of shrub. The construction requires six to seven days, then she and her partner breed, and she lays eggs.

Incubation of the eggs takes The incubation period takes about 13 to 16 days. Baby birds mature in about two weeks. They leave the nest but can’t yet fly. Their parents look after them while they explore the breeding territory. Their parents teach them to fly at about aged five to six weeks. At this point, they establish their own hunting area.

Meadowlarks will desert a nest full of eggs if a human visits it or touches the nest. The deserted eggs cannot survive. This makes it imperative that humans never approach a meadowlark’s nest, and you train your children to stay away from them, too.

When other animals approach, the male meadowlark chases away the privacy intrusion, the bird is fiercely protective of his mates and their offspring, and he will attack a predator of any size.

By using perches on fences, electric or telephone wires, or poles, the dad bird guards both nests at one time to protect his young. These territorial birds observe the area around their nests using these perches. You may get to see a wild blackbird swoop down to scare off a predator.

Western Meadowlark on the ground

Western Meadowlark on the ground

Do Western meadowlarks form communities?

Meadowlarks form nuclear families, but they include two nuclear families, rather than consolidating their two spouses and two sets of children. They maintain two separate domiciles. The male meadowlark constantly hunts and delivers food to each nest. The female of the species feeds the baby birds. Most of the year, they hunt alone, but in winter, they form small flocks.

In some of the states that made the bird their state bird, the meadowlark lives year-round, but in other states, this migratory bird relocates. Nebraska’s cold winters prompt the birds to fly south to US states in the Deep South and Mexico. The birds may fly as far as Canada in hot weather months, migrating back to their summer habitat during late April or early May.

Western Meadowlark with a beak full of insects

Western Meadowlark with a beak full of insects

What do western meadowlarks eat?

Meadowlarks do not eat the same food year around. During spring, the birds dine on grain seeds and berries, but during the rest of the year, the blackbird dines on bugs. It ants, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, cutworms, and any other insects they capture.

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