89. Birds of Barrington with Wendy Paulson: Eastern Meadowlark, the Flautist of Prairies

Eastern Meadowlark

Editors Note:  Wendy Paulson’s first Barrington bird hike of this spring is coming up at Ron Beese Park at 8 a.m. this Friday, April 4th.  See below for link to Wendy’s full spring bird hike schedule and details.

Eastern Meadowlark, the Flautist of Prairies

– by Wendy Paulson with Citizens for Conservation

One of the grassland melodies I most look forward to each spring is that of the eastern meadowlark. For me, the notes defy translation into words that attempt to approximate the vocalization. They are, rather, simply an ethereal tremulo that lifts and transports the heart.

Birds of Barrington: Eastern Meadowlark, the Flautist of Prairies
Birds of Barrington: Eastern Meadowlark, the Flautist of Prairies

To be sure, the meadowlark is also capable of crass earthy chatter – like most birds, it has a “call” as well as a song – but its lilting refrain is the communication with which I prefer to associate it.

Meadowlarks are among the earliest species to return to northern grasslands. In many parts of the country they reside year-round. As short-distance migrants, the meadowlarks we see locally spend winter months probably in the southern US and even in southern Illinois. In March, it is not uncommon to hear their song or spot their awkward flight in Barrington area grassy habitats. Some of the best spots locally to see and hear meadowlarks include Grigsby Prairie (a Citizens for Conservation preserve) or one of the many sections of Cook County’s Spring Creek preserve, especially Galloping Hill (opposite Penny Road Pond parking lot in Barrington Hills) and Longmeadow (east of Bateman Road and Longmeadow Road, also in Barrington Hills).

It is easy to identify an eastern meadowlark, either at rest on a fencepost or in flight. It is a stout, sturdy bird with a short tail. What stands out if the bird faces you is its rich yellow breast marked with a conspicuous black V of black feathers on its chest. Its head is largish and flat and it has a long, strong, pointed beak that signals its membership in the blackbird family. When it flies, the meadowlark is hardly graceful. It employs stiff, rapid, downward wingbeats to propel itself skyward, then flies with periodic glides, giving the flight a jerky character. In the air, it exposes the white outer tail feathers that are a giveaway field mark.

Post 300 - Eastern Meadowlark - 2Like many grassland birds, meadowlarks nest on the ground. To minimize the risk of predation and to ensure ample supply of insects for nestlings, they need large expanses of prairies or fields. While meadowlarks have nested for 27 years at CFC’s Grigsby Prairie, its 50 acres of high quality grassland probably represent the minimum size tract that can support a pair or two of meadowlarks. Predation by coyotes, foxes, snakes, raccoons, roaming cats and dogs is always a threat; the larger the breeding ground, the higher are the chances for successful broods.

As native grasslands succumbed to agriculture and development, populations of the eastern meadowlark plummeted. The National Audubon Society has estimated a decline in northern Illinois of 87% since 1967. But prairie restoration initiatives by Citizens for Conservation, National Audubon, Cook County Forest Preserve District and others have begun to bring the species back to our area.

For a visual and aural treat, plan to visit a local grassland this spring or summer to welcome the return of the eastern meadowlark.


About the Author

Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.

Wendy Paulson
Wendy Paulson

Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.

During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.

She has a regular schedule of bird walks in the Barrington area sponsored by Citizens for Conservation and Audubon Chicago Region.

Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.

She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.

For more information about a cause close to Wendy’s heart here in Barrington, visit CitizensForConservation.org.

Citizens for Conservation recently announced the schedule of 2014 Barrington area Spring Bird Hikes and Walks with Wendy Paulson.

Wendy’s first hike of the spring is coming up at 8 a.m. this Friday, April 4th, at Ron Beese Park!

CLICK HERE to find out when and where you can meet Wendy for her upcoming Bird Hikes & Walks.

Wendy is also a regular contributor at 365Barrington.com sharing profiles of birds found in the Barrington area. CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series and watch for her next contribution which will be published early next month.

Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington? Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and we’ll ask Wendy!


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