Photo of the Week – September 19, 2013

I was a little surprised last week to find a fledgling meadowlark in the Platte River Prairies.  The bird was young enough that it still couldn’t do much more than flutter clumsily away from me as I first approached it.  The bird must have come out of a very late nest (probably the 3rd or 4th nesting attempt by its parents?)  Multiple nest attempts aren’t unusual for grassland birds – many nests fail because of predators or other reasons – but I can’t remember ever seeing a bird so young this late in the season.

This young meadowlark peered through the grass at me as I crept close enough to photograph it.  Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

This young meadowlark peered through the grass at me as I crept close enough to photograph it. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

While this particular meadowlark was unusually young for this time of year, it’s common for young-of-the-year birds of many species to hang around prairies longer than their parents, many of whom migrate south soon after their offspring leave the nest.  Because they are not expert fliers and inexperienced with life’s challenges, those newly independent birds are vulnerable to everything from predators to haying equipment.  In some species, young birds appear to take advantage of the adults’ absence by scouting for their own potential future nesting locations – a strategy that might help save them time when they return from migration next year.  However, just knowing where you want to set up a territory doesn’t mean you can fight off a more experienced male who has the same idea!


About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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8 Responses to Photo of the Week – September 19, 2013

  1. Sue says:

    The Meadowlark is one of my favorite birds. I hope the baby made it.

  2. Brian says:

    No bird sings the age-old song of the western outdoors and prairies better than the Western Meadowlark. No bird better typifies grassland sunshine and immenseness.

  3. Joanne says:

    I spent alot of time as a young girl hiking with my dog and looking for meadowlark nests. This post brought back those memories – so- Thank You! They are beautiful birds and sing a happy song. I too hope the bird will grow up before it gets too cold.

  4. Mike Henry says:

    Attempting to set up my territory. Fighting off a more experienced male. Been there! Done that!

  5. carltrip says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I didn’t know half of the stuff about birds that the article talked about. It is always cool to learn something new about nature.

  6. Erik Nickels says:

    I didn’t know younger birds hung around after their parents left. Seems pretty dangerous!

  7. Pingback: Isn’t it a little late to be nesting? | The Prairie Ecologist

  8. Jacob says:

    It does seem to be claiming the grass for itself.


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