Eastern Meadowlark in Carden

Ron Pittaway

First published in Toronto Ornithological Club Newsletter, December 2019, No 292

Eastern Meadowbird on the Carden Alvar. Photo by Jean Iron


The Carden Alvar is a great location to see and hear the once-common Eastern Meadowlark. Males arrive in early April and sing lustily from the fields. Females arrive two to four weeks later.


IDENTIFICATION: Meadowlarks are unmistakable with a big black V on a yellow breast and conspicuous white outer tail feathers. Distinctive flight alternates rapid wing beats and short glides. The silhouette suggests a starling.


VOICE: The Eastern Meadowlark is usually first detected by hearing its far-carrying whistled Spring-of-the-Year song or its call notes. A short raspy dzert call is given by males and females. Both sexes also give a chattering alarm call in response to intruders and predators. It sings from conspicuous perches such as trees, shrubs, posts and fences, and sometimes from the ground.


HABITAT: Breeding birds prefer expansive grasslands with scattered shrubs and a good mixture of wildflowers and other forbs. Moderate grazing by cattle has positive effects on meadowlark habitat providing a variety grass heights and structure for nesting, roosting and feeding. Meadowlarks eat invertebrates and seeds on the ground.


CONSERVATION: The Eastern Meadowlark is declining in Ontario and much of its range. It was listed as Threatened in 2011 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The causes of the decline are the conversion of grasslands to intensive croplands, early haying, plant succession, reforestation and urban sprawl. It is likely to become Endangered if the causes of the decline are not reversed. The Carden Alvar is one of the few places in Ontario with protected habitat for Eastern Meadowlarks and other grassland birds.


BEST PLACE: Wylie Road north to the viewing blind is the best area to see Eastern Meadowlarks. They are also widespread and frequent elsewhere in Carden.


WESTERN MEADOWLARK: There are occasional records of Western Meadowlark in Carden. Compared to the skittish behaviour of Eastern Meadowlarks, Westerns are often tamer and easier to see well. They are best told from Easterns by their different song and calls. The song is loud bubbling flute-like notes and one call is a throaty blackbird-like chuck. Falls (2000) wrote “Despite the tendency of meadowlarks to learn each other’s songs and calls, any meadowlark in southern Ontario that gives any Western songs or has Western calls is almost certain to be a Western.” Hybrid meadowlarks are very rare and most are sterile.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Michel Gosselin for comments and Jean Iron for the photo


REFERENCE: Falls, Bruce. 2000. Meadowlarks in Ontario. OFO News 18(2):8-9