In 1925, in a statewide election run by the Audubon Society, school children voted for the western meadowlark to be named the state bird of Kansas. Out of about 121,000 votes, the children more than 48,000 for the western meadowlark to become the state bird of Kansas. The bobwhite and the cardinal finished second and third, respectively. It took until 1937, however, for the state legislature to officially recognize the western meadowlark as the state bird of Kansas. In addition to being Kansas' state bird, the western meadowlark also is the state bird of Oregon, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.
The western meadowlark, scientifically named Sturnella neglecta, is a large, somewhat chunky songbird that is in the same family of birds as orioles and blackbirds. Male and female western meadowlarks range in length from about 6.3-10.2 inches (16-26 cm), weigh 3.1-4.1 ounces (88-116 g) and have a wingspan of approximately 13.5-17 inches (34-43 cm). The back of the western meadowlark is mostly a buff or dull brownish color with some black streaks, and its breast, belly and throat are a bright yellow. The most distinguishing physical feature of this bird is a feathered black “V” across its yellow breast.
Geographically, the western meadowlark migrates over short distances and has a range that stretches from British Columbia in Canada eastward to Ohio and south as far as northern Mexico. As is fitting for the state bird of Kansas, a farm state, the preferred habitats of the western meadowlark are the open country of abandoned fields, pastures, prairies and grasslands. Frequent sightings of the bird in Kansas are of the male sitting on top of a fence post, singing its very distinctive, melodic flute-like song.
Males use their song to stake out a territory to nest in and to attract females to mate. Next, the male performs a visual display in which he sticks his bill in the air, inflates his bright yellow throat and flaps his wings above his head. Should that not be successful, the male western meadowlark begins hopping up and down to attract attention. Breeding season is roughly from May through July, with males usually having two mates at the same time.
A female builds her nest on the ground by digging a shallow depression with her bill, lining it with soft grass and weaving a roof for it. She lays three to seven eggs, and incubation takes about two weeks. The female does the incubating and brooding.