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March 22: The Western Meadowlark

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States have chosen a variety of symbols for such things as a state mammal or a state flower. There are state insects, beverages, trees, dances, and fossils. North Dakota has many state symbols. The state flower is the wild prairie rose. The state dance is the square dance. The state fish is the northern pike.

Every state has chosen a state bird. In some cases, the bird was chosen by popular vote. Other states tasked the state legislature with making the choice. The selection of a state bird is a surprisingly important decision that can say a lot about the state and its people. Most states chose a native bird and many states have the same bird. The northern cardinal, for example, represents seven states.

Most state birds were chosen in the 1920s and ‘30s, although Arizona did not choose the cactus wren until 1973. The Audubon Society and local birding clubs supported designating state birds because it put a focus on the importance of birds to the environment.

North Dakota is home to over 400 bird species, but the honor of being the state bird goes to only one. On this date in 1947, the North Dakota legislature chose the western meadowlark, which actually isn’t a lark. It is a songbird in the same family as blackbirds and orioles. It is common throughout the western portion of the country and is a popular bird, representing six states. It is known for its melodious song. It is a small bird, only eight to eleven inches in length. They may be small, but they have a fourteen-inch wingspan. The western meadowlark is a common sight perched on fenceposts in grasslands and agricultural areas. The bird’s song has been compared to a flute and is heard with each Dakota Datebook.

Western meadowlarks are useful to the environment. It is estimated that sixty to seventy percent of their diet consists of beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other insects. They nest on the ground, constructing a nest of dried grasses and bark. The nest sometimes has a full grass roof, protecting them from predators including hawks, crows, coyotes, and weasels.

The western meadowlark is abundant throughout North Dakota, although their habitat is declining. They are a protected non-game species.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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