While driving around looking for Sandhill Cranes feeding in the corn fields a week ago, we spotted a couple of lark species (not closely related species actually — they just happen to have “lark” in their common names).
Horned Larks are one of the earliest nesting species, often losing a nest full of eggs to a late winter snow storm. They seem to be really adaptable, hearty birds, breeding from low desert to high altitude (as high as 13,000 feet), over an expansive range from southern Mexico to northern Alaska. Despite their wide geographic range, Horned Larks seem to prefer the geography and climate of the place they were raised (like many humans I know), so those that migrate south to avoid the harsh Canadian and Alaskan winters return to exactly the same spot to breed each year.
Meadowlarks are not larks at all, but are members of the Blackbird family. Their name seems to suit them, as they are most often found in grassy meadows or fields and “sing like a lark”.
The geographic ranges of Eastern and Western Meadowlarks overlap slightly in this area of central Nebraska, but the two species keep their amorous efforts strictly within species boundaries, based on their song preferences, so there is no hybridization between them. Males of the two species may even compete with each other for the best territories, making sure to exclude the other species’ females as well.