In 1925 the Kansas Audubon Society conducted a statewide election involving schoolchildren to choose a state bird. The Western Meadowlark won the election with nearly 125,000 votes. The bobwhite and the northern cardinal took second and third, respectively.
The Kansas Legislature in 1937 made the choice official. The Meadowlark is also the state bird of Nebraska and Wyoming. Many other species of birds may have deserved recognition as well since the number of different species in Kansas is quite abundant. In fact, a good percentage of all birds found in North America are found in Kansas sometime during the year.
The Western Meadowlark is multicolored. Its chest, upper neck or throat, and part of its face are yellow. Dividing its upper neck from its chest is a black V-shaped patch. Its back is a combination of black, brown, and buff-colored feathers. Its chest is divided from its back with a white section that has black-brown spots in it.
A bird's plumage can differentiate one type of bird from another. Another characteristic that identifies a bird is its song. Some songs, like the blue jay's "jay, jay, jay," can be quite repetitive while other songs can be quite melodic and pleasing. The song of the meadowlark is such a tune. Its flute-like quality and range of melody conveys to the listener a pastoral scene of prairie grasses and clear blue skies on a warm June day in Kansas. It is this quality alone that probably won the statewide election for the western meadowlark.
Bills are another indication of a bird's classification. Bills come in a variety shapes and styles and allow different birds to feed on different food supplies. For example, eagles and hawks have sharp, hook-like beaks for catching prey. Pelicans have large deep bills for catching fish. The Meadowlark has a long, pointed bill used for catching grasshoppers, caterpillars, and beetles.
Birds' feet can also indicate information about the species. A number of different foot styles exist among birds. Ducks, for example, have webbed feet for swimming, and hawks and eagles have claws for catching small animals like mice. The foot of a Meadowlark has three long toes that can be used both for walking on the ground and perching on a tree or a fence post. This is often where Meadowlarks are visible as people drive through Kansas.
Different birds build different types of nests. Some birds build nests that hang from limbs on a tree. Others build nests of twigs that sit perched on top of a tree’s limbs. The Meadowlark builds its nest on the ground in a clump of grass. Although they are on the ground, Meadowlark nests are quite hard to find.
Entry: Western Meadowlark
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Date Created: July 2011
Date Modified: January 2013
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