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What Is Nebraska’s State Bird? How Was It Decided?

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western meadowlark bird perching

State bird, state flower, state logo. All 50 states have one of these (and other categories) to add a little pep and pride about their history.  Nebraska became a state in 1867, just 2 years after the Civil War ended. It’s now home to the world’s largest fossil, the first glass of Kool-Aid, and a Chef Boyardee statue.  

But you didn’t come here to learn about the world’s first can of ravioli. You want to know what Nebraska’s state bird is. It’s the beautiful Western Meadowlark.

Nebraska isn’t the only state to fall in love with this bird either. Other states, like Montana, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Oregon, have made the Western Meadowlark their state bird. 

But what makes this bird so special? Let’s find out!

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What Does the Western Meadowlark Look Like?

Western Meadowlark on the ground
Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock
Length 6.5–10.0 inches
Weight 3.1–4.1 oz
Wingspan 16 inches
Colors Yellow, black, tan, gray, white

The Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) is a medium-sized bird with a flat head, slender bill, and chunky body. The beak is gray and black with tan and black spotted feathers. This little songbird is a fun bird to watch for with its yellow breast, black V-shaped band, and spotted wings. 

The Western Meadowlark looks similar to an Eastern Meadowlark, so people often confuse these two birds. This is a nice challenge for beginning bird watchers. You can tell these two birds apart by how they vocalize, so listen carefully! 

What Makes the Western Meadowlark Special?

Western Meadowlarks have a 7–10-note melody, which usually ends in three notes descending (but this can vary). What makes their melody so interesting is that it sounds like a robot from an old 90s movie. 

The following video shows a beautiful Western Meadowlark singing while perched on a fence post, which is often where you’ll find these birds. Listen for yourself and see if you can hear the R2D2 noise!

If you do hear a Western Meadowlark, it’s probably a male, depending on the time of year. Male Western Meadowlarks like to establish their territory before the females arrive for mating season. 

When Was the Western Meadowlark Adopted?

Nebraska became a state in 1867 but didn’t adopt the Western Meadowlark as the state bird until March 22, 1929. The Nebraska Federation of Women’s Club (NFWC) put it to a vote and their decision made it to Governor Adam McMullen’s desk. He signed the bill, and the Western Meadowlark became the official state bird.

Kansas had recently adopted the Western Meadowlark only 4 years prior. It was common to see the Western Meadowlark in the prairie brush and shrubs.

judge work in the office with judge gavel
Image Credit: PaeGAG, Shutterstock

Where Do Western Meadowlarks Live?

Where you find Western Meadowlarks varies from state to state. Western Meadowlarks prefer to stay near open land with a few shrubs and trees. This is where they find food and lay their eggs, so don’t expect to find them in forests where the vegetation is dense.

Western Meadowlarks prefer the open ground to find their food and lay their eggs, so you’re likely to find these birds flying low on open land with short, stiff wing flaps. 

You probably won’t see a Western Meadowlark in the city, but in Nebraska, you may see them foraging at the base of mountains, buttes, mountain bluffs, and open grassland with low to medium-height grasses. 

If you find a Western Meadowlark nest, don’t approach it! Western Meadowlarks will abandon their nests if a predator approaches, so keep your distance as much as possible. 

Sadly, many bird species are declining, including the Western Meadowlark. About 53% of the bird populations have vanished in the past 50 years, making it challenging to spot this beautiful bird.

western meadowlark
Image By: jdblack, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

It’s sad to think that Nebraska’s state bird population is declining. But it’s not too late to do something about it! Planting native plants and trees and keeping your cats inside help keep the bird population safe. 

There are other ways you can help birds, too, and you’re already doing it. Learning about this bird and trying your hand at bird watching is a great way to preserve the species. How? 

Once you fall in love with these birds and really listen to their songs, you’ll want to do more to help them. So, grab your binoculars, hop in the car, and go find a Western Meadowlark.


Featured Image Credit: perching_Michael Chatt, Shutterstock

About the Author Cassidy Sutton

Cassidy is a vet tech and pet sitter who has more recently become a animal writer. She loves cats and dogs and has had dozens of pets over the years. Her specialty is the human-animal bond. Cassidy and her husband currently live in Kansas with a German Shepherd named Raven, two cats named Lucy and Streudel, and several backyard chickens.