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State Birds of the US
State Symbols: State Birds

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Montana State Bird

Western Meadowlark State Symbol: Montana State Bird - Western Meadowlark

(Sturnella neglecta)

Adopted on March 14, 1931.

The western meadowlark has captivated the attention and interest of Montanans from Lewis to the present. When asked in 1930 which bird best represented Montana, the state's school children responded overwhelmingly with the meadowlark.

By an act of the Montana Legislature, the western meadow lark, (Sturnella neglecta,) was adopted as the official state bird on March 14, 1931.

The buoyant, flutelike melody of the Western Meadowlark ringing out across a field can brighten anyone's day, evident in the fact that it is also the state bird of Kansas, Montana NebraskaNorth Dakota, and Oregon

Montana State Bird: Western Meadowlark

State Symbol: Montana State Bird - Western Meadowlark

The western meadow lark is known for its loud, cheerful chirps. It is about as big as a robin with a bright yellow chest and throat under a black collar. It builds its nest on the ground and lays between three and seven white eggs with purple and brown spots. The eggs only take two weeks to hatch. It can be found in spring and summer along most dirt roads, sitting on fence posts singing to other meadowlarks nearby.

The western meadowlark is about nine inches long. It has a brown and black back and wings and a bright yellow chest with a black V on it. The meadowlark's colors may be a little duller in winter. It has a long pointed bill. The western meadowlark is very similar to the eastern meadowlark. The western meadowlark's yellow color extends a little further onto its cheek. The songs of the two meadowlarks are the easiest way to tell them apart. The song of the western meadowlark is a series of flute-like gurgling notes that go down the scale. The eastern meadowlark's call is a simpler series of whistles.

Characteristics of the Western Meadowlark

The Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) is a medium-sized icterid bird, about 8.5 in (22 cm) long. It nests on the ground in open country in western and central North America grassland. It feeds mostly on insects, but also seeds and berries. It has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related Eastern Meadowlark.

  • Length: 8.5 inches
  • Sharply-pointed bill
  • Buff and brown head stripes
  • Yellow underparts with black "v" on breast
  • White flanks with black streaks
  • Brown upperparts with black streaks
  • Brown tail with white outer tail feathers
  • Juvenile and winter plumages somewhat duller
  • Frequents open habitats

History of the Western Meadowlark

Lewis and Clark were the first to write about the western meadowlark in 1805. To Meriwether Lewis goes the distinction of not only "discovering" the Bitterroot, but first recording what became Montana's state bird. Under the date of June 22, 1805, Lewis noted in his journal the appearance of a lark with a yellow breast and black spot on the throat. It resembled in size, action, and color the eastern lark with which he was more familiar, but the song was richer and more varied.

The western meadowlark's cheerful song, consisting of a loud, clear, warbling whistle, makes him easily recognizable. His peculiar flight habits, several short, rapid wing beats alternated with brief periods of sailing, also make the western meadowlark very recognizable. This bird has its nest on the ground in a hidden spot and has from three to seven eggs of mixed white, brown and purple.

The western meadowlark has captivated the attention and interest of Montanans from Lewis to the present. When asked in 1930 which bird best represented Montana, the state's school children responded overwhelmingly with the meadowlark. Legislators agreed the next session, and in 1931, the western meadowlark (Sturnella-Neglecta: Audubon) added its song as another official representative of the Big Sky Country.

Act of the Montana Legislature

By an act of the Montana Legislature, the western meadow lark, (Sturnella neglecta,) was adopted as the official state bird on March 14, 1931. The act read, in part:

"Section 1. The bird known as the Western Meadow Lark, Sturnella-Neglecta (Audubon) as preferred by a referendum vote of Montana school children, shall be designated and declared to be the official bird of the State of Montana."

Montana Statute

The law designating the western meadow lark as the official Montana state bird is Section 1-1-504 (State bird) of the Montana Code Annotated, Title 1 (GENERAL LAWS AND DEFINITIONS) Chapter 1 (GENERAL PROVISIONS) Part 5 (State Symbols - Official Designations) Section 1-1-504.

TITLE 1. GENERAL LAWS AND DEFINITIONS
CHAPTER 1. GENERAL PROVISIONS
Part 5. State Symbols - Official Designations

1-1-504. State bird. The bird known as the western meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta (Audubon), as preferred by a referendum vote of Montana school children, shall be designated and declared to be the official bird of the state of Montana.

History: En. Sec. 1, Ch. 149, L. 1931; re-en. Sec. 530.1, R.C.M. 1935; R.C.M. 1947, 19-116.

Taxonomic Hierarchy: Western Meadow Lark

Kingdom: Animalia - animals
Phylum: Chordata - chordates
    Subphylum: Vertebrata - vertebrates
Class: Aves - birds
Order: Passeriformes - perching birds
Family: Fringillidae - buntings, finches, grosbeaks, old world finches, sparrows
Genus: Sturnella Vieillot, 1816 - meadowlarks
Species: Sturnella neglecta Audubon, 1844 - Pradero occidental, western meadowlark

Official State Birds
US map : Birds & Flowers
State Bird:  Bird selected (by the legislature) as an emblem of a State.
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