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Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta


Suzanne Sullivan
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eBird Checklist S40657481
Plum Island (please use more refined location)
Essex, Massachusetts, United States
Search this location, Illustrated Checklist
Latitude and Longitude 42.7985, -70.8091 Map



Observation details

After some review and feed back from some experts there seems to be a consensus that this bird indeed is a Western. The clincher , the excellent photo by Judd Nathan that was taken the next day - much better than mine with more detail and better exposed which I was unable to get due to the back lighting, Below are my comments from my original report with photos. I had this immature meadowlark at the Wardens, unfortunately a refuge truck went down the dike and scared it away limiting my time with it. Could still be in the area? I realize how difficult of an id this is especially without audio. To my knowledge the bird never made a sound. I put it under this category because I think this birds deserves review fully recognizing the likely outcome. A WEME is certainly not out of the realm considering the crazy weather patterns, probably more out of the realm is securing the id. So I’ll take a stab at it ..... these are the things I note about this bird that point towards Western and away from Eastern, excluding “Lillian’s” spp. which may deserve a separate comparison and is also a possibility if one even dares to go there, the scalloped and barred pattern is freakishly similar to the bird on ebird. but the fanned tail pattern still seems to fit WEME better. 1. The Tail! - One of the most important features to consider, It is clearly barred without confluence at the rachis /shaft. The thin bars stay pretty consistently even through out the feather, this is a pretty consistent feature for WEME ( except the NW spp). This pattern is also repeated in the tertials and can be seen well in both the sitting and flying photos. The amount of white in the tail is important to note also. There appears to be not as much white on the outer rectrices as is typically shown in many on line references to tail pattern compared to EAME. But the tail pattern of this bird seems to match very well for WEME. 2. Tail coverts. Here are comments from David Sibley about a Newfoundland meadow lark from the blog Birding with Buckley - "Eastern uppertail coverts look mostly black, with a broad solid black central shaft streak and small dark bars projecting out from that. Western uppertail coverts are pale gray-brown with distinct dark bars (no dark longitudinal shaft streak). This is the same pattern difference shown on the central tail feathers, but it seems to be more obvious and more reliable on the coverts. The NL bird looks like an Eastern.” - This may have been one of the more important features that ruled out WEME for the NL bird. My bird does not appear to have solid tail coverts, they are similarly barred like the tail. 3. Color/tone - This bird has a light grayish/brown tone with very little if at all reddish tone, to me similar to Ipswich Sparrow. In fact when it flew, absent the typical flight pattern, it was so unfamiliar because it looked so gray. 4. Face - some what more subjective I think..... it seems like the cheek is more grayish than it should be but I had a hard time finding any really good photos to compare eastern vs western. The malar looks pretty buffy sometimes but once again is the is subjective? In some photos the post ocular stripe looks thick and dark and then in some it looks pretty thin and light. Maybe someone else will come up with more in this area because I struggled with it. The bill size may also be something to consider but again, not sure. As always I look forward to comments. I have considered putting this bird up on the advanced id list serve and may if I have some time later today.

Technical Information

Focal length
300 mm
Shutter speed
1/4000 sec
Flash did not fire, auto
Original file size
936 x 732

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