Wyoming is the least densely populated state and the 10th largest by area in the United States. The western half is dominated by the Rocky Mountains and the eastern part is home to the High Plains. The state animal for Wyoming is the Bison, but what is the state bird?
In 1927, the state of Wyoming named the sunshine-colored Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) its state bird. The bright colors of this medium-sized blackbird that isn’t black brighten Wyoming’s buttes and prairies.
You can recognize the meadowlark by its introspective expression and its streaks and spots. Watch this carnivore capture and eat bugs. It only resorts to berries and seeds when it has to do so.
The state bird of Wyoming, the Western Meadowlark
The Cowboy State chose the Western Meadowlark because of its prevalence throughout the state. Also called the wild meadowlark, the prairie dwelling bird flits and flutters among the bison adding color to the landscape with its sunny yellow chest and stomach. You can see them in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, as well as, keeping the elk company in the National Elk Refuge.
The Mountain West state of Wyoming waited until 1927 to name its state bird. Its legislature adopted the bird as the state bird in a resolution on February 5, 1927. Wyoming shares the Western meadowlark as a state bird with Kansas, Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.
Close up portrait of a singing Western Meadowlark
This meadow bird has two tell-tale traits – short, spiky tail feathers and abreast of yellow with a black band in a V-shape around its neck. Its sharp and pointy beak comes in gray and black.
Its outer tail feathers of white stand out in marked contrast to its brown and tan body and wing feathers speckled with black and white markings. As far as birds go, the size of the Western meadowlark is neither small nor large.
It measures 6.5 to 10 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 16 inches and weighs only three to four ounces.
Western Meadowlarks are extremely vocal birds
These blackbirds hide their home, so you must watch your step when you hike through Wyoming prairies. It is easy to miss seeing this bird’s nest, so you must move carefully throughout the prairie lands. Look for a complex structure with a grass roof and a tunnel to the nest in a sparse shrub or grass. The bird’s nest construction blends with the fields, making it especially tough to spot at dusk.
The bird only sings by day, hiding in its nest at night. By day it remains active but outside of a predator's reach. Their stealthy way of life after dark aids them in protecting themselves. Despite this, they avoid forests and thick shrubs.
Western Meadowlark taking off from a perch
The male of the species establishes its breeding ground in an effort to attract females. He’ll usually need to fight for the territory and may need to defend it for up to a month before females arrive. In each breeding season, he chooses two females. They each construct a nest within their breeding grounds, but otherwise, do not interact.
These birds use flute-like mating calls to meet. Each activity they undertake has a tweet. Some sound like a whistle. While the female builds their nest and lays the eggs, she tweets “tee-tee-tee.” While the species is related to the eastern meadowlark, they sing different songs, so if you can recognize an eastern meadowlark, it will not help you to recognize the western meadowlark.
Western Meadowlark on a wooden post
Once the male and female of the species choose one another, they turn to nest construction, which takes between six to eight days. They both gather materials, but the female constructs the nest. She excavates a hole of a four to five-inch depth and a two to three-inch width, the axis of which measures seven to eight inches. Into this shallow hole, she piles dry grasses, shrubs, and stems. Once finished, the couple breeds, and the female lays eggs.
Incubation of the eggs requires between 13 and 16 days. They remain in the nest with their parents until they reach the age of about five weeks, but at two weeks they explore the ground with their parents. During these three weeks on the ground, their parents teach them flight. Once they learn to fly at five to six weeks of age, they explore the hunting area.
The male meadowlark tends both nests. He hunts to feed both spouses and himself. Once the eggs hatch, the male also hunts to feed the babies. They protect the nest by guarding against various high points above, such as telephone wires and electrical wires. If a human approaches their nest, they will desert it.
Western Meadowlark in flight
The meadowlark family unit proves complex. These animals form nuclear families, but two separate nuclear families. The avians are serially monogamous. In the following breeding season, each bird from the couple will choose a different partner.
Much of the year they hunt alone, however in winter, they form small flocks and hunt for food. This hunting in flocks provides the only time they participate in activities outside of their families.
These blackbirds do migrate. They typically winter in the southern US states and Mexico, but when warm weather hits in April or May, the birds may fly as far as Canada. They return to their winter habitat before the first freeze.
At times, the western meadowlark travels to the eastern meadowlark’s breeding grounds. They may mate, but their offspring won’t provide as virile as if they had if two western meadowlarks had mated.
Western Meadowlarks love insects
The first choice of food for the meadowlark might surprise you. They eat meat. These blackbirds prefer cutworms, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, and other insects. Of course, sometimes they have to eat other items.
During winter they rely on grains and grain seeds for their food. They dig in the ground or manure piles to unearth their tasty dinner.
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