Perilous Venture

This pair of Western Meadowlarks surveyed the northern region of the park from the top of a coyote bush. A third meadowlark perched just out of view. It’s almost breeding time for these birds, and they need to find a secure nesting site. That’s a perilous venture, because they nest on the ground, and there’s very little if any ground area in the park that’s entirely safe from four-legged mammalian predators. This year, Parks management has a brand new super-fast Kubota mower, and has already razed dozens of acres of grasslands where these birds might have found refuge. The Cornell bird lab says:

The female Western Meadowlark chooses a nest spot on the ground in pasture, prairie or other grassland habitat. She seeks out a small dip or depression such as a cow footprint, often shielded by dense vegetation that can make the nest difficult to see. Working alone, the female Western Meadowlark uses her bill to shape a depression in the soil into a cup-like shape, then lines the nest with soft, dry grasses and the pliable stems of shrubs. Although some nests are simple grass-lined bowls, Western Meadowlarks often use the vegetation around the nest cup as an anchor to create a hoodlike, waterproof dome over the nest by weaving together grass and shrub stems. When finished the nest is 7–8 inches across, with a cup that is 4–5 inches across and 2–3 inches deep. It can take 6–8 days for the female to build the season’s first nest. As the parents move back and forth from the nest they create short “runways” into surrounding grasslands.

Western Meadowlarks are typically polygynous, meaning that one male has two female mates. Polygyny, as Wikipedia teaches, is not uncommon among animals; it occurs in other birds such as the common pheasant, the house wren, and the red-winged warbler, and in mammals, such as the elephant seal, gorilla, red deer, and others. As is typical in polygynous arrangements, the Western Meadowlark females do all the work of nest building and brooding, and most of the feeding of the offspring.

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