Lots of Larks

Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta)

Several dozen of these birds foraged in the greened-up meadow in the southeast corner of the park shortly after sunrise, and the next morning, later, worked the western ridge and the bayside slope below it. The recent rains had brought not only greenery to the surface, but also apparently lots of edibles. Meadowlarks are omnivorous, feeding on grains and seeds as well as bugs and other proteins.

Both males and females have the yellow breast with the distinctive V-shaped dark pattern, which varies in detail from bird to bird. Males are a bit larger and heavier than females but it’s very difficult to tell the difference in the field.

Meadowlarks aren’t actually larks, members of the Alaudidae family. They’re more closely related to blackbirds. As far as researchers have been able to determine, the males do all the singing when they sing. Unfortunately for us, the singing seasons are spring, summer, and fall. We’re in winter, and the complex melodious singing that the birds are famous for isn’t happening right now. Different males sing different songs; males with larger repertoires also tend to have longer wings and an easier time matching up with a female. Their eggs and fledglings also do better.

These birds are almost certainly migrants from breeding grounds up north. They could nest and breed here, climate-wise, and may have tried in recent years, but they build their nests on the ground and that’s not safe on the big meadows here, due to people who run their dogs off leash outside the unfenced 17-acre dog park.

I saw a meadowlark in the park already in early October. It ran for cover when the “Blue Angel” jets passed in the near distance. The low-altitude passage of commercial jets at the time I filmed the video above also arrested the birds’ movements. That racket and a variety of other audio disruptions decided me to replace the audio track entirely with a tinkly music track. Not my preference but sometimes necessary.

Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) with Golden Gate Bridge (composite photo)

More about them: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon In Chavez Park

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