Revealing the Movement Mysteries of Meadowlarks

The eastern meadowlark, an iconic indicator species of eastern grassland habitats, has declined by more than 70% since the 1970’s. To adequately understand the drivers of this decline and protect remaining populations, we need to know where individuals spend their time – year-round. Our partners at Smithsonian’s Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) have been leading efforts to elucidate year-round (otherwise known as ‘full annual cycle’) movement patterns in multiple species using innovative tracking technology. However, there has been little to no research on the movement ecology of eastern meadowlarks, which remain in predominantly privately-owned grasslands year-round. Knowing which habitats meadowlarks use at different times of year is critical for developing best management practices that support populations throughout the full annual cycle. Moreover, sharing this information relating to meadowlark populations and their year-round habitat needs with private landowners is essential for developing successful conservation strategies moving forward.

Working with existing landowners in the VWL community, we have initiated a pilot study on eastern meadowlarks in the Piedmont region using multiple tracking methods, including the Motus tower network. Although VWL research has demonstrated that meadowlarks occur in VA year-round, we don’t know if populations are year-round residents or if observed overwintering birds are short-distance migrants from northern populations. Knowing this will help identify appropriate conservation measures for supporting populations on both breeding and wintering grounds. The overall goal of this study is to pilot meadowlark tagging methods that will build capacity for multi-state research collaborations while identifying important information about their full annual cycle.

Primary Investigators:
Amy Johnson – Virginia Working Landscapes
Pete Marra – Georgetown University and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
Jared Stabach – Movement of Life Initiative

Project Timeline & Status:
Field work began Spring 2019 – Ongoing

This project is supported by Conservation Nation, The Band Foundation and a FONZ Conservation Grant.

Monitoring Meadowlark Movements


VWL is supported 100% by grants and donations and our work is made possible by the generous contributions from our community.

The Smithsonian Institution is a 501(c)(3). All contributions are tax-deductible.


Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road, MRC 5537
Front Royal, Virginia 22630