I grew up in an era when colour photographs or colour prints were not readily available. Magazines were few and far between and financially out of reach for my family during those years. But many distributors of boxed foods such as cereals and teas, and bubble gum manufacturers provided colour photo prints as incentives to purchase their products. I collected two types of prints: hockey player photos because it was the only way I knew what they looked like prior to television, and bird prints!
Those pictures graced the walls of my little bedroom. The wall at the foot of my bed was reserved for my favourites: my hero Syl Apps codling the coveted Stanley Cup was on the left. On the right, in glorious colour, hung a wonderful image of an Eastern Meadowlark, standing erect on a fence post, head up and singing his heart out. These images, even at the age of seven, became goal icons for me. I dreamed of playing for the Maple Leafs, like so many other young Canadian boys, and I also dreamed of being able to take such wonderful photographs of my favourite birds! The pictures which hung on the walls are long gone, but the images of those two photographs at the foot of my bed which I saw first thing on awakening and the last thing I saw before sleep are permanently etched in my mind.
I didn’t get to play for the Leafs, but I have been able to take some reasonably good pictures of birds, but not the quality of my friend and award winning Orillia Wildlife photographer, Arni Stinnissen whose image of an Eastern Meadowlark accompanies this article.
Eastern Meadowlarks have declined in numbers recently and are now sadly on the endangered species list in Ontario. Much of the grasslands required for their habitat have disappeared due to development and changing agricultural practices. Fortunately there are still Eastern Meadowlarks in our region and this is the best time of year to spot them.
The males have already arrived from their wintering grounds. The courtship begins soon after the females arrive towards the middle of May. With their bright yellow breast it is one of the easiest grassland birds to identify. They are most often found on a fence post or utility lines or at the top of a bush singing. During the courtship, they will frequently engage in aerial chases. They are also easy to identify in flight as they take several rapid beats of the wing and then they glide, seldom traversing more than a few hundred metres before landing.
Nests are built on the ground often next to a dense clump of grass. They are often predated by cowbirds, which destroy the Meadowlark eggs and lay their own eggs in the nest for the Meadowlarks to incubate and raise the cowbird’s young. Nests built in hay fields are also in danger of being destroyed when hay is mowed.
You won’t find Eastern Meadowlarks in an urban area, so take a drive through area grasslands, drive slowly and keep your eyes on fence posts, utility lines and the top of shrubs to see this most beautiful of birds!
Written by David A. Homer