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What Is North Dakota’s State Bird? How Was It Decided?

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Western Meadowlark on the ground

North Dakota’s vast landscapes may be famous for its herds of wild bison and badlands, but its symbols go beyond just that. The Peace Garden State has a wide variety of birds in its ecosystem, yet none are as representative as the Western Meadowlark, which is officially known as North Dakota’s state bird. So, how did this bird come to be North Dakota’s state bird? Keep reading to find out.  

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What Is a Western Meadowlark?

A Western Meadowlark, also known by its scientific name Sturnella neglecta, is a member of the Icteridae family. They predominantly stay in the central and western United States year-round, as well as southwestern Canada for mating season and the majority of Mexico, where they stay for non-breeding periods.

This species boasts a brilliant yellow plumage across its head and belly, with a brownish back and wings. Both their legs and beak are substantially longer than most other small birds, which complements their habitat of tall grasslands so they can observe their surroundings clearly. They eat a diet of insects that can be foraged close to their nests that they build on the ground. 

Some might confuse this species with the Eastern Meadowlark, which is a strikingly similar bird (they look almost exactly the same) that lives more so in the eastern areas of North America. The easiest way to differentiate the two is by their unique songs.

western meadowlark
Image Credit: jdblack, Pixabay

Why Did North Dakota Decide to Have the Western Meadowlark as Its State Bird?

The Western Meadowlark was picked as North Dakota’s state bird because of its popularity and bond with the state. It’s just a bonus that they produce such lovely songs. However, it only shares its breeding grounds with this state and may migrate south when the colder months come around. 

What Year Was the Western Meadowlark Chosen as North Dakota’s State Bird?

It wasn’t until 1947 that the Western Meadowlark was chosen as North Dakota’s state bird, despite the fact that the state had been established about half of a century earlier. It can be found in Title 54 of the North Dakota Century Code, under Section 54-02-06. Before this time though, the Peace Garden State had to do without a representative bird in its books.

What States Share the Western Meadowlark as Their State Bird? 

The Western Meadowlark isn’t just the state bird of North Dakota, it shares this title with a few other states of the central and western regions, including Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Western Meadowlark
Image Credit: jmrockeman, Pixabay

Where to Find the Western Meadowlark in North Dakota

If you’re an avid birdwatcher, wildlife photographer, or any other enthusiast, the best place to find North Dakota’s state bird is in open, grassy areas like meadows (hence the name), fields, pastures, or even rolling hills. These are perfect environments for this species, and you’ll be able to pick them out easily due to their vibrant, goldish-yellow body. They may come to a feeder if you provide them with their carnivorous diet, so mealworms could be worth a try. Good luck!

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Featured Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.