Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Last Song

Breaking away from my traditional close-up bird portraiture, here's a lovely digiscoped photograph of an Eastern Meadowlark surveying his domain at a field near Airport Road in Middleton this morning. When I was born in 1966, nearly 25 million of these gorgeous black, brown, yellow, and white grassland birds graced our fields and prairies, singing their sweet melody of notes. In just my lifetime their numbers have plummeted over 70%. The meadowlark in this photograph will sing throughout spring, establish and defend a territory, pair up with a mate, and with a little luck they'll bring forth their progeny into this world. But to what end?

Mortality is high for them and their young will probably never experience their own spring migration. Our greed for commerce and land may have already sealed the fate for Eastern Meadowlarks. With little mercy, our veritable national motto “bigger, better, faster, more” is pushing this species toward the brink of impossible recovery. Through no fault of his own evolutionary makeup, he can't possibly know what's coming and what we're planning. With regret and no one else to blame, the last paragraph of the final chapter on Eastern Meadowlarks seems to be written.

The common bird isn't as cherished, but we should reverse this unwise tendency of our character. In no way would my sense of value for this species be diminished if their numbers were as high today as they were 40 years ago. The meadowlark pictured above is telling us a story through his melodious song. He sings how he, and unseen millions of his brethren before him, once dominated North America's grasslands … for tens of thousands of years. That such an incredible legacy across a huge expanse of time can cease to exist so abruptly should serve as a warning, but I'm fairly certain too few of us can be bothered to be away from our televisions long enough to listen to a meadowlark's song. The last Eastern Meadowlark will look just like this one. The bird of the future will sing the same song, but then there will be no answer.

© 2010 Mike McDowell


  1. My favorite post of yours this year. This is a species that I feel is often forgotten about, maybe because of their declining population. I worry every year that I will not have the pleasure of hearing this bird's beautiful melody. When I do, I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. In my opinion, the most beautiful bird song that the eastern species have to offer. I wish the best for this species and hope to hear their song for a long time to come.

  2. What has driven man to destroy this planet..pure and simple GREED...which is a sin...LATEST Meadowlark KILLER, Wisconsin Mega Dairy Farms which are plowing up once fallow fields so they can dump their BGH invested Cow Dung on it 10X a year, every year and kill them with in Kewaunee Co they are removing 100 year old stone fences to make fields more 'efficient"..and dumping cow dung EVERYWHERE, polluting EVERY little creek with Phosphorous levels that far exceed the new 0.1 mg/L phosphorous limits...WDNR sits on their hands and says , there is nothing they can do???

  3. Very sad, touching & informative post.

  4. What's really alarming is that this kind of thing is going on EVERYWHERE with formerly numerous species. And it's not just the best land being rapaciously developed any more. It's land that just a few years ago was deemed undesirable or even worthless. I'm talking sandy windswept scrub land with no access to water being marketed as "luxury home sites."

    One can't help but think we're approaching some kind of breaking point both environmentally and as a species. What happens when there isn't any more land, not even unproductive, poor quality land, to appropriate into the economy? What then?

  5. The BIRDS are coming...check out that radar on Monday night!