One of the Okanagan’s most captivating singers is undoubtedly the western meadowlark, known for its extraordinary vocal projection. In the open grasslands and meadows, where cover is limited, the meadowlark’s melodic call travels far, making it difficult to pinpoint its source. This adaptation allows effective communication with other meadowlarks while helping to evade predators.

Meriwether Lewis, leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was among the first to study the meadowlark in depth. In 1805, Lewis noted the subtle differences between the western meadowlark and its close relative, the eastern meadowlark. He observed that the western meadowlark had a differently shaped tail and beak compared to its eastern counterpart, but found “no perceptible difference” in size, behavior, or coloration.

Like other insect-eating birds, the meadowlark has played a crucial role in Okanagan Valley agriculture by helping to control pest populations. For some, the meadowlark’s song evokes feelings of nostalgia, as its call has remained constant amidst the Valley’s many changes. Others, meanwhile, view it as a harbinger of spring.

For instance, on March 10, 1930, the Vernon News joyfully reported the return of meadowlarks, along with bluebirds and killdeers, to the Valley. Their seasonal departure was noted with equal solemnity; an article from later that year poetically remarked, “Songless, so August passed by. We take the road, but from the meadowlark, no quick call greets us—only within the bush the cat birds cry.”

Like many other bird species in the Valley, the meadowlark was studied and painted by naturalist Allan Brooks. With painstaking detail, Brooks captured the delicate yellow, white, and brown coloring of the meadowlark in his field guide, now housed in the Vernon Archives. In 1940, Brooks was commissioned to paint his rendition of the meadowlark, as depicted above.

The western meadowlark can be seen in the Okanagan Valley during its summer breeding season. In winter, these birds migrate to the Southern United States and central Mexico. Since monitoring began in the 1970s, western meadowlark populations have significantly declined, likely due to habitat loss and degradation, a trend observed in all grassland bird species in North America.

Header information: Allan Brooks’s meadowlark painting, commissioned in the 1940s.  

Gwyneth Evans, Archives Manager