Revealing the Movement Mysteries of Meadowlarks

Project Objective: To examine the movement ecology of eastern meadowlarks using GPS and satellite technology.  

Description:  

Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna), an iconic indicator species of eastern grassland habitats, have declined by over 70% in the last 50 years. Understanding the drivers of their decline will require knowledge of their movement patterns throughout the annual cycle. As it stands, little is known about the behavior of meadowlarks outside of the breeding season. For example, Eastern Meadowlarks are reported throughout Virginia during the winter, but it remains unknown whether those birds are year-round residents or the introduction of short-distance migrants from northern populations.  

We are studying a population of breeding eastern meadowlarks occupying private working farms in the Piedmont and Shenandoah valley regions of Virginia. We are deploying Argos-GPS pinpoint tags (4.0 grams) on adult eastern meadowlarks to track their movements for one full year, or what is otherwise known as the full annual cycle. Data from the project will help us to develop conservation strategies that will support populations on both their breeding and wintering grounds and will provide opportunities to teach the public about migration and the importance of private lands for this declining species.  

This research is in collaboration with George Mason University, the Movement of Life Initiative, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and the Smithsonian’s Migratory Connectivity Project. Funding was generously provided by the Band Foundation, Beatrice and Adie von Gontard, Kathryn and Tony Everett, the Jacquemin Family Foundation, Friends of the National Zoo, Conservation Nation, and the Volgenau Foundation. 

Sources of Funding:  

  • Beatrice and Adie von Gontard 
  • Kathryn and Tony Everett 
  • Band Foundation 
  • Jacquemin Family Foundation 
  • Conservation Nation 
  • Volgenau Foundation 

Collaborators 

  • George Mason University 
  • Movement of Life Initiative  
  • Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center 
  • Smithsonian’s Migratory Connectivity Project 

Project Contact 

  • Amy Johnson, Program Director, JohnsonAE[at]si.edu  
  • Bernadette Rigley, Research Fellow, Rigleyb[at]si.edu 

In the News 

Monitoring Meadowlark Movements

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

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