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Western Meadowlark Life History

Western Meadowlarks live in open grasslands, prairies, meadows, and some agricultural fields ranging from sea level to 10,000 feet. They avoid wooded edges and areas with heavy shrubs. In winter they forage for seeds on nearly bare ground, in contrast to the Eastern Meadowlark, which tends to feed in more vegetated areas.Back to top

Western Meadowlarks eat both grain and weed seeds along with insects. They show a distinctly seasonal dietary pattern, foraging for grain during winter and early spring, and for weed seeds in the fall. In late spring and summer they probe the soil and poke beneath dirt clods and manure piles seeking beetles, ants, cutworms, grasshoppers, and crickets. As they forage, meadowlarks use a feeding behavior called “gaping”—inserting their bill in the soil or other substrate, and prying it open to access seeds and insects that many bird species can’t reach. Western Meadowlarks occasionally eat the eggs of other grassland bird species. During hard winters, they may even feed at carcasses such as roadkill.Back to top


Nest Placement

The female Western Meadowlark chooses a nest spot on the ground in pasture, prairie or other grassland habitat. She seeks out a small dip or depression such as a cow footprint, often shielded by dense vegetation that can make the nest difficult to see.

Nest Description

Working alone, the female Western Meadowlark uses her bill to shape a depression in the soil into a cup-like shape, then lines the nest with soft, dry grasses and the pliable stems of shrubs. Although some nests are simple grass-lined bowls, Western Meadowlarks often use the vegetation around the nest cup as an anchor to create a hoodlike, waterproof dome over the nest by weaving together grass and shrub stems. When finished the nest is 7–8 inches across, with a cup that is 4–5 inches across and 2–3 inches deep. It can take 6–8 days for the female to build the season’s first nest. As the parents move back and forth from the nest they create short “runways” into surrounding grasslands.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size: 5-6 eggs
Number of Broods: 1-2 broods
Egg Length: 1.0-1.3 in (2.5-3.3 cm)
Egg Width: 0.8-0.9 in (1.9-2.2 cm)
Incubation Period: 13-16 days
Nestling Period: 10-12 days
Egg Description: White profusely spotted with brown, rust, and lavender.
Condition at Hatching: Eyes closed, naked with pinkish orange skin and sparse pearl gray down along the spine and above the eyes.


Flocks of the stout-bodied Western Meadowlark forage along the ground in open fields, probing the soil for insects, grain and weed seeds. When taking to the air, they fly in brief, quail-like bursts, alternating rapid, stiff wingbeats with short glides. In spring, males establish territories and chase intruders away in “pursuit flights” that can last up to 3 minutes. You may see males competing over territorial boundaries perform a “jump flight,” springing straight up into the air several feet and fluttering their wings over their back with their legs hanging limp below. Male Western Meadowlarks can spend up to a month establishing and defending a breeding territory before females arrive. Successful males typically mate with two females during the breeding season, bringing food to the nest once the chicks are hatched and noisily chasing intruders away. Western Meadowlarks are extremely sensitive to humans when nesting and will abandon a nest if they are disturbed while incubating their eggs.Back to top


Although Western Meadowlarks are numerous, their breeding populations declined over 1% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 48%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 85 million with 84% spending part of the year in the U.S., 25% in Mexico, and 9% in Canada. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds’ Watch List. Declines may be due in part to conversion of grassland breeding and wintering habitat to housing and agricultural uses. Other factors affecting Western Meadowlark populations may include pesticide uses, habitat degradation due to invasive plant species, and fire suppression that alters native grasslands. Further research is needed to determine how different management practices in both native and planted grasslands affect both nesting success and adult survival of Western Meadowlarks.Back to top

Backyard Tips

Western Meadowlarks may come to backyards if food is offered. Although not seen regularly at feeders, they occasionally visit feeding stations in open habitats. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.


Davis, Stephen K. and Wesley E. Lanyon. (2008). Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Weed Management in Organic Vineyards

If you choose not to use synthetic pesticides, then your goal should be to maintain the vineyard as clean as possible. Weeds serve as an excellent host for insect pests fungal pathogens and should be routinely controlled by all grape growers. Vineyards differ from orchards in that the foliage and fruit in vineyards are typically much closer to the ground.

While perennial weeds are definitely considered more of a problem, annual weeds, such as horseweed (marestail) (Conyza canadensis), are capable of growing within the vinerow up to the clusters to a height of six feet in a single season and serve as a host for disease. Weed control in organically managed vineyards requires special attention to prevent weed problems before they start. Cover crops planted in the row middles and mechanical control of weeds in the vine rows are key components of an organic weed management program. In some cases, particularly where the weed population is high, it may be desirable to use conventional herbicides for the first couple of years after planting and then transition into organic production. This usually helps to reduce weed pressure, making weed management easier once organic certification has been obtained.

Weed Management Before Planting

It is important to have little or no weed competition at the time of planting vines. This makes weed control before planting critical. Take measures to deplete the soil weed seed bank. A summer fallow treatment of irrigation (to encourage weed seed germination) followed by tillage (to uproot newly emerged weed seedlings) will desiccate weeds and reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil. Repeat this cycle several times to further deplete weed seeds in the soil. Alternatively, weed seeds located in the top four inches of soil can be buried with a soil-inverting plow such as a Kverneland plow to depths from which seeds cannot emerge. Here, the soil should not be deep-plowed again for at least three years to help prevent bringing up viable seed. A moldboard plow will not sufficiently invert the soil to be effective.

Soil Solarization

Soil solarization can be used in the area planned for vine rows to significantly reduce weed populations. The soil in the area designated for solarization must be moist and at least six feet wide in each row. The plastic should be buried on all sides to create a seal on the soil and help prevent the plastic from being blown away by wind. Machines are available that lay down the plastic and automate this otherwise labor-intensive process.

In areas where summer fog is not a concern, solarization should begin when day length is as long as possible, or at least be started by the beginning of August to have sufficient time (4 to 6 weeks) to complete the process. Use clear plastic with a UV inhibiting component to prevent breakdown before the process is completed. Black plastic suppresses weed seed germination but will not heat the soil sufficiently for solarization. Solarization may not be successful in suppressing species like nutsedge. The plastic should be removed before planting the vines.

Weed Management after Planting


Mechanical cultivation uproots or buries weeds. Weed burial works best on small weeds. Larger weeds are better controlled by destroying the root-shoot connection or by slicing, cutting, or turning the soil to separate the root system from the soil. Keep cultivation shallow to minimize damage to grape roots and to avoid bringing more weed seeds near the surface to germinate.

Perennial weeds with established root systems are difficult to kill with a single tillage operation. For tillage to be successful on perennials, the top should be removed by cultivating to a depth of 3-4 inches. This will cause the underground portion of the plant to regenerate a new top, forcing the weed to use a greater portion of the reserves available. Repeated cultivation may eventually kill these weeds by eliminating the amount of reserves available for growth. Trip mechanisms on under vine vineyard cultivators are often used to prevent damage to the vines. These mechanisms move the knife or cutting blade before it hits the vine. Even the best cultivators will not eliminate all weeds, thus hand hoeing is often needed. Hand cultivation alone may be effective on a small scale.


Mulches can be used for weed control in the vineyard. Mulches block light, preventing weed germination and growth. Many materials can be used as mulch: municipal yard waste, wood chips, straw, hay, sawdust, newspaper, and others. To be effective, mulches must block all light to germinating weeds. Materials vary in the depth necessary to accomplish this. In general, the larger or looser the mulch pieces, the deeper the mulch needs to be. Organic mulches must be maintained in a layer at least four inches thick. Organic mulches breakdown with time and the original thickness is typically reduced by 60% after one year. Winter cover crops grown in vineyard middles can be the source of organic mulch. The process, known as “mow-and-throw” or ‘mow and blow’, involves cutting the cover crop and moving (‘throwing’ or ‘blowing’) it in the vine row to the base of the vines. Weeds that emerge through the mulch can be controlled using an organic contact herbicide or with hand hoeing. Cover crops planted under the vine row may compete with weeds, but they may also increase competition with the vine, possibly reducing grape yields. Mulches may harbor voles, gophers, and field mice, which feed on vine trunks and roots.


Several contact-type herbicide products are approved for use in organic vineyards. Many of these products can damage any green vegetation contacted, including the leaves and young stems of grape vines. Apply products as directed sprays to the base of woody stems and trunks. These herbicides only kill plant tissue that they contact; so good coverage (60 or more gallons per acre spray volume) is essential. Adding an organically acceptable surfactant is recommended. These materials all lack residual activity and repeated applications will be needed to control new flushes of weeds. These products are more effective on broadleaved weeds than grasses. Follow all label precautions and directions, including requirements for protective equipment.


Flamers can be used for weed control in the vine row. Propane-fueled models are the most commonly used. Flaming works on the principle that heat causes the sap of plant cells to expand, causing the cell membrane to rupture. This process occurs in most plant tissues at about 130ºF. To work effectively, weeds must have less than two true leaves. Flaming is usually less effective on grasses because their growing point is at or below ground level. Weeds that have been killed by flaming change from a glossy to a matte or dull finish. This occurs very rapidly in most cases. Foliage that retains a thumbprint when pressed between thumb and finger has been adequately flamed; it is not necessary to burn the plants. Typically, flaming can be done at 3 to 5 mph, depending on the heat output of the unit. Avoid flaming during windy conditions, as wind can displace the flame, resulting in poor weed control or vine injury. Repeated flaming can be used to suppress perennial weeds such as field bindweed. Care must be taken to avoid igniting dry vegetation, which could not only injure the vines, but start a wildfire.


Before using any animals for weed suppression in vineyards, check federal, state, and local food safety regulations and comply with them.

Sheep are often used for weed control in organic vineyards and can be very effective in controlling weeds. Their effectiveness depends on several factors, among them the amount of feed available (cover crop and weeds), and the density (number per acre) of sheep used. Goats are browsers, and are often used to control the brush around vineyards. If goats are used in the vineyard, they must be carefully managed to avoid damage to the vines. Unless the animals used have been otherwise trained, goats and sheep should be removed before bud break to reduce the chance of damage to young shoots.

Geese can also be used in vineyards. Geese prefer grass species and will eat other weeds and crops only after the grasses are gone. They have a particular preference for the rhizomes of two especially troublesome vineyard weeds, johnsongrass and bermudagrass; geese will dig them up and eat them if confined. Generally, four geese per acre are needed. Consult the following website for further information on geese In most cases, all animals used in vineyards will require some form of protection from predators (dogs, coyotes, etc.).

For further information on grazing animals, please consult the following websites: Targeted Grazing (University of Idaho) and Weeding With Geese (University of Missouri).

Vineyard Irrigation –Special Considerations:

While some vineyards are not irrigated (dry-farmed or rain-fed), most are irrigated in one form or another. Vineyards that are flood or furrow irrigated are amenable to most of the previously described forms of organic weed control. When microsprinklers or drip irrigation is used, some considerations must be made when choosing a weed control method. In-row cultivators may damage irrigation lines and emitters. However, surface lines can be suspended in the vines or on stakes to allow for in-row mowing, cultivation, or flaming underneath. If the microsprinklers are suspended upside down, hand hoeing, possibly flaming, organically approved herbicides, and weeder geese could also be used for weed control.

UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Grape
UC ANR Publication 3448

FAQs about CBD Use in Pets

A: Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid produced by the plant Cannabis sativa, commonly known as marijuana. After many anecdotal reports of CBD’s potential health benefits, studies are now underway to look at the potential benefits of CBD for controlling pain from conditions such as osteoarthritis, calming anxious pets, and as a possible treatment for epilepsy in dogs. CBD is being used by many pet owners today, so it’s essential to know enough about it to discuss the potential risks of use.

Q: Is CBD psychoactive?

A: No; however, there are several possible reasons a dog who has ingested CBD may look high:

  1. The product that the pet ingested contains both THC and CBD. There are many products on the market, some even labeled for use in pets, that contain both CBD and THC at varying concentrations, so check the labels or look up the product online to see what’s in it.
  2. The pet ingested enough of a CBD product to cause THC toxicity. Hemp can legally contain up to 0.3% THC, so if a pet ingests a large amount of a hemp-based CBD product, mild THC toxicity can occur.
  3. The product has not undergone quality assurance testing and contains THC.
  4. The dog also found some marijuana or THC edibles. Ask about any other cannabis products in the home.

Q: What are the most common signs reported in pets after the ingestion of CBD products?

A: Vomiting, lethargy, inappetence, and diarrhea are the most common clinical signs reported. Ataxia can occasionally occur with large ingestions.

Q: How do I treat these cases?

A: Most cases need no treatment, aside from symptomatic care for gastrointestinal upset if it occurs. If it’s a large dose, where the THC content might be a factor, mild sedation, urinary incontinence, hyperesthesia, and ataxia could develop, and the pet should be confined to prevent injury from misadventure. If you see significant signs that look like THC toxicity, treat the pet in front of you and provide IV fluid support, anti-nausea medication, and good nursing care as needed.

Q: Is there anything special I need to know about pet hemp treat overdoses?

A: Products sold as “soft chews” can have an osmotic effect when large amounts of chews are ingested and pull fluid from the body into the gastrointestinal tract. In mild cases, this can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. In severe cases, hypernatremia, hyperglycemia, hyperkalemia, azotemia, and acidosis can occur. Aggressive fluid therapy, while monitoring hydration status and electrolytes in these pets, is critical.

Q: What about interactions with other medications? Any long-term effects to be concerned about?

A: CBD is an inhibitor of cytochrome P450 and has the potential to affect the metabolism of other drugs. While this appears to be of minimal clinical significance in most cases, this may be important when CBD is used in a pet for seizure control. Doses of other anticonvulsants may need to be adjusted. Remember that owners may discontinue anticonvulsants on their own if they feel that CBD is controlling their pet’s seizures, so this is an important discussion to have.

CBD has also been shown to cause dose-dependent elevations in liver enzymes in various safety studies. This has not been noted in acute overdose situations but could be a concern in pets taking CBD long-term. Monitoring liver enzymes and total bilirubin in these pets is recommended.