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It’s in your nature: Birds of fields and meadows

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    A female killdeer displays as a distraction near its ground nest. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    A female horned lark diligently searches for scattered seeds on a frozen Carbon County farm field.

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    A grasshopper sparrow, identified by the shorter tail and “hunched” neck, perches on a weed stalk overlooking its meadow grass territory.

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    A bobolink in early May returns to its meadow home to nest after its long-distance migration from South America.

Published August 17. 2019 06:43AM


Animals and plants have certain unique special requirements to survive. Pond lilies are not going to survive on a rocky Carbon County hillside, neither would you head to Hell Hollow in Penn Forest Township to search for ring-billed gulls. Birds have adapted to survive in a specific habitat and have refined their adaptations to survive there as well.

Forest birds such as black-capped chickadees depend on the trees to provide shelter, food or nesting opportunities. The chickadees have adapted to gleaning insects from the leaves in spring, summer and fall while turning to dormant insects, their eggs and seeds in winter. Certainly, they will visit your feeders if there is still enough tree or shrub cover nearby.

Some birds live in marshes, some like house sparrows need to live around humans and their activities, or some live on the tundra. You get the picture.

Our meadows host various bird species that have adapted to feeding and nesting in the grasses, weeds and, in some instances, very sparse vegetation. The killdeer prefers very short grasses or sparsely vegetated areas to nest on the bare ground and feed in the “open” as well. The young are colored to blend in, as well as their specially camouflaged eggs.

Horned larks, which are year-round residents, also nest on the ground with only a few weed stalks to shelter the eggs and young. I find more horned larks on the winter’s snow-covered fields because they feed on top of the snow, gleaning any weed seeds they can find.

In fact, birding buddies Dave, Rich and I also know to scan a winter field that was recently manured. The dairy cows don’t digest all the seeds, and larks know where to look. If you venture out shortly after a snowfall in January, look for small flocks of horned larks on a roadside soon after the snowplows have laid some of the roadside bare, exposing food.

Troxell Road in Mahoning and East Penn townships, Strohl Valley and many Northwestern Lehigh fields are best bets to find them.

Summer birds of the meadow are meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows and bobolinks. All three of these species appear to be in decline due to loss of habitat and different farming practices. Grasshopper sparrow males will alight on a short post or weed stalk and sing to claim their territories. When disturbed, they make a short, rapid wingbeat flight to quickly disappear in the meadow grass again.

Bobolinks are beautiful birds that arrive in the Times News region about the first week of May. They have made the long flight from their wintering areas of South America. They are a black bird with a white back and yellow back of their neck. They too will perch on a post or fence to sing their “dink-a-link” song. They too take short flights to hide among the grasses. Like the grasshopper sparrow and meadowlarks, they require higher grass meadows and uncut hay fields to complete their nesting.

Meadowlarks once nested yearly in the field behind my East Penn Township home, but houses and lawns now occupy that space. I have only seen two or three meadowlarks the past few years, and that is disconcerting to me. The Eastern meadowlark, bobolinks and grasshopper sparrows and all are species of concern.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Male honeybees are called drones.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: The queen bee larva is fed a special food called: A. bee bread, B. royal jelly, C. pollen, D. none of these.

Contact Barry Reed at




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