Species Profile

Eastern Meadowlark

Scientific Name: Sturnella magna
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2011
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2b
COSEWIC Reason for Designation:

This ground-nesting grassland specialist has seen major changes in its population size and breeding range since European settlement. Most of its native prairie habitat had fallen to the plough by the end of the 19th century. However, these habitat losses were effectively counter-balanced by the provision of large amounts of surrogate grasslands (primarily pastures and hayfields) as a result of the widespread conversion of eastern deciduous forests to agricultural land. The species initially responded with expansions in its breeding range (primarily eastward). Since the mid 20th century, however, the amount and quality of surrogate grasslands across its range have declined. Although the species’ population is still relatively large, it has been undergoing persistent rangewide declines. These declines are believed to be driven mostly by ongoing loss and degradation of grassland habitat on both the breeding and wintering grounds, coupled with reduced reproductive success resulting from some agricultural practices.   
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in May 2011.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2017-11-02

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

The Eastern Meadowlark is a medium-sized songbird that is a member of the blackbird family. It has a relatively long, pointed bill and short tail. Adults are patterned with brown on the back, and have a bright-yellow throat and belly with a large black ‘V’ pattern in the middle of the chest. The white outer tail feathers are especially visible in flight. The Eastern Meadowlark closely resembles the Western Meadowlark – a species found in similar habitat but nesting primarily in western North America. Sixteen subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark are recognized, but only one occurs in Canada (Sturnella magna magna). [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Distribution and Population

Including all subspecies, the Eastern Meadowlark’s global breeding range extends from central and eastern North America, south through parts of South America. However, there is only one subspecies in Canada and the neighbouring northeastern U.S. In Canada, the bulk of the population breeds in southern Ontario, becoming progressively less common through southern Quebec, New Brunswick, and southern Nova Scotia. Eastern Meadowlarks are short-distance migrants, with most of the Canadian population believed to winter in the southcentral and southeastern United States. In Canada, the Eastern Meadowlark population is estimated to be about 250,000 mature individuals (roughly 125,000 breeding pairs). The population size and breeding range of this species in central and eastern Canada expanded soon after European settlement, owing to the provision of large acreages of pasturelands and hayfields following the clearing of the native forests. This also roughly coincided with large declines in the availability of the species’ natural habitat (e.g., native prairie). All sources of available information now demonstrate a decline of the species in Canada, which probably began sometime in the mid-20th century, concomitant with the decline in the amount of surrogate agricultural habitats and intensification of agricultural practices. Meanwhile, the Eastern Meadowlark’s native prairie has not returned and remains only a fraction of its historic acreage, Population trend information from the Breeding Bird Survey for the period 1970 to 2009 shows a statistically significant decline of 3.1% per year in Canada, which corresponds to an overall decline of 71%. Over the most recent 10-year period (1999 to 2009), there has been a statistically significant decline of 3.3% per year, which corresponds to an overall decline of 29%. Regional surveys, such as the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, the Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas and the Étude des populations d’oiseaux du Québec, also indicate significant declines in recent decades. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Habitat

Eastern Meadowlarks prefer grassland habitats, including native prairies and savannahs, as well as non-native pastures, hayfields, weedy meadows, herbaceous fencerows and airfields. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Biology

The Eastern Meadowlark employs a mixed reproductive strategy that includes both monogamy and polygyny. Polygyny is frequent. In Canada, males arrive on the breeding grounds in April, while females return about 2-4 weeks later. Nests are situated on the ground. They are well concealed in vegetation and consist of a grass cup covered by grass woven from the surrounding vegetation. Clutch size is usually four to five eggs. Up to two broods can be raised in a breeding season. Age of first reproduction is 1 year. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Threats

The main causes of the decline in Eastern Meadowlark populations have been identified as: 1) habitat loss on the breeding grounds (and probably also on the wintering grounds) caused by large-scale conversion of forage crops to intensive grain crops and other row crops, reforestation of abandoned farmlands, and urbanization; 2) intensification and modernization of agricultural techniques promoting earlier and more frequent haying during the nesting season, which results in low breeding success; 3) a high (and probably increasing) rate of nest predation; 4) overgrazing by livestock; 5) mortality due to pesticide use on the breeding and wintering grounds; and 6) reduced reproductive output stemming from Brown-headed Cowbird nest parasitism. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Eastern Meadowlark is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

15 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna in Canada (2011-09-09)

    The Eastern Meadowlark is a medium-sized songbird that is a member of the blackbird family. It has a relatively long, pointed bill and short tail. Adults are patterned with brown on the back, and have a bright-yellow throat and belly with a large black ‘V’ pattern in the middle of the chest. The white outer tail feathers are especially visible in flight. The Eastern Meadowlark closely resembles the Western Meadowlark – a species found in similar habitat but nesting primarily in western North America. Sixteen subspecies of the Eastern Meadowlark are recognized, but only one occurs in Canada (Sturnella magna magna).

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Eastern Meadowlark (2011-12-08)

    This ground-nesting grassland specialist has seen major changes in its population size and breeding range since European settlement. Most of its native prairie habitat had fallen to the plough by the end of the 19th century. However, these habitat losses were effectively counter-balanced by the provision of large amounts of surrogate grasslands (primarily pastures and hayfields) as a result of the widespread conversion of eastern deciduous forests to agricultural land. The species initially responded with expansions in its breeding range (primarily eastward). Since the mid 20th century, however, the amount and quality of surrogate grasslands across its range have declined. Although the species’ population is still relatively large, it has been undergoing persistent rangewide declines. These declines are believed to be driven mostly by ongoing loss and degradation of grassland habitat on both the breeding and wintering grounds, coupled with reduced reproductive success resulting from some agricultural practices.   

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada (2021-10-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada applies to all federally owned lands and waters managed by Parks Canada in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), including Bead Hill National Historic Site. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province of Ontario, the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle, and environmental non-government organizations as per section 48(1) of SARA. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at RNUP. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (volume 151, number 5, 2017) (2017-03-08)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada with respect to the status of the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 151, number 23, 2017) (2017-11-15)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances), and, given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem can lead to a loss of individuals and species resulting in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011-09-09)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2011 (2011-12-08)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 8, 2012 for species undergoing normal consultations and by November 8, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Related Information

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) Listing Plan 2016 to 2018 (2017-09-29)

    The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018. Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status. Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act. NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.
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