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Desert Diary


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Common names of animals are always good for a chuckle or two to those with a smattering of biological knowledge. Take meadowlarks, for example. From the name, one would think that these are larks. Sorry, no such thing! They're blackbirds, bona fide members of the family Icteridae! But that's still a problem, because instead of being black, they're brown and white and yellow with a black bib and a few black spots.

So here we have a lark who's not a lark, instead being a blackbird who's not black. Tell me again that common names make sense! There are two species of meadowlarks in the northern Chihuahuan Desert: the Eastern Meadowlark and the Western Meadowlark. These names, too, might seem misnomers to people in our region, but the bigger picture shows that the names fit pretty well—we just happen to be in a region of overlap. Unless you have a good ear, though, you may be convinced there's only one around. The two species are lookalikes—you shall know them not by their sight, but by their song.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Painting of a Meadowlark by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (Henshaw, 1921).



Henshaw, H. W. 1921. The book of birds. Common birds of town and country and American game birds. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. 195 pp.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 544 pp.

Web Resources

Differences in looks between the Western and Eastern meadowlarks.

Eastern Meadowlark. Includes song.

Western Meadowlark. Includes song.