Western Meadowlark Relocated in Homer!
Originally found in Homer on 4 February 2011 by Jackie McDonough, and found later that day by only a few others, this Western Meadowlark then disappeared and was not seen again until Jackie spotted it in her neighborhood again last week on 8 March. The third sighting of this bird came today (15 March) when Toby and Laura Burke and family spotted it feeding on the lawn south of the Ocean Shores motel around 11:30 AM. They called me up and I was able to find it in the same area and watch it from about 4:45 to 6:00 PM today with Trae Lohse and Mossy Kilcher. All of the sightings of this bird have thus far occurred within a few blocks of today’s sighting.
Western Meadowlark is casual in Alaska (nearly 20 records), with almost all of the records coming from Southeast Alaska in fall or winter (about half of these are from Ketchikan). The only records for the state away from the fall and winter seasons are two records of Western Meadowlark, and one of an unidentified Meadowlark, from interior Alaska that occurred during the summer months. This is the first record of Western Meadowlark from the Kenai Peninsula!
Photo 1. Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta, the lawn of the Ocean Shores Motel, Homer, 15 March 2011. Click on any photo for a larger image.
Identifying meadowlarks out of range is very difficult and before today this meadowlark was probably best left identified only as a meadowlark species. However, today it showed well on the lawn and gave prolonged views of several key marks. Also, the bird called! While it was perched in this birch tree Mossy Kilcher, Trae Lohse and I heard it call four times. It’s call was a loud, clear and rich “Tuke” or “Tchuke”.The call of an Eastern Meadowlark is described as a metalic and buzzy “dzrrt” in the 5th edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. On all recordings that I’ve been able to listen to, the calls of the two species are very easily distinguished from one another. For examples of the calls of both species, check out the excellent Macaulay Library website.
Interestingly, when this bird perched in the tree a flock of Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Pine Siskins began to mob it as they would a small owl. It was during this mobbing that the meadowlark called.
In photos 1-3 the features that help identify this as a Western Meadowlark are the yellow feathers intruding into the lower malar region. An Eastern Meadowlark would have no yellow in the malar region. Also note the tannish, low contrast eye-stripe and crown stripes and spotted (not streaked) flanks.
Photo 4. In addition to the yellow in the lower malar region, note the finely barred (not dark centered) secondary coverts, tertials and lower scapulars. Overall, the upperparts are uniformly pale, lacking any rich tones shown in the northern races of Eastern Meadowlark.
Photo 5. On this photo note the barred (not dark centered) central tail feathers, with the tannish bars continuing all the way to the feather shaft. It also appeared that the white in the tail feathers was limited to only the outer three tail feathers (R4-R6). On R4 (the third tail feather counting inward) the white appeared to be mostly limited to the outer web. Photos 5-8 show the tail and the relatively limited white. Unfortunately, on all of them the shutter clicked a nanosecond too early or too late and the none of the photos capture the tail spread to its full extent.
Photo 6. The uppertail coverts are also finely barred, not dark centered.