The most common situation in which to spot a Western Meadowlark is singing full voice from a fence post, a shrub, a long stalk of vegetation–anything in his flat habitat that lets him be seen above the vegetation and send out his lively song. The next most common view you’ll likely have of a meadowlark is of one flying away from you. It has a very distinctive, rapid wingbeat where the wings don’t really seem to ever get above its body—mostly just quick downward flaps. You can also usually see the bright white edges of its tail when it’s in flight. Click here for a photo of this glimpse.
The voice of the Western Meadowlark is delicious. Click here and scroll down a bit to the area entitled “Typical Voice.” The Eastern Meadowlark has a very different song, although similarly lovely. Click here to see if you can hear how most people describe it (“spring-of-THE-year. The differences in their songs is by far the best way to tell the 2 species apart. As noted in the article, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks can be differentiated visually, but it can be a challenge. For instance, below is a photo of a Western Meadowlark (left) and an Eastern Meadowlark (right).
You can probably see some differences between these birds—the one on the left looks like it has a yellower breast and belly; the black necklace looks much darker in one. But these differences are mostly due to individual variations. If the bird isn’t singing, the most reliable way to tell these species apart is by looking at what is called the malar area—the area immediately behind the lower jaw (called the mandible). In the Western (below left), the malar area is yellow; in the Eastern (below right), the malar area is white. (Click on either the photos below to see a larger version.)
Eastern Meadowlarks also have darker-looking tail feathers, due primarily to darker brown centers on each tail feather. But that can be really hard to distinguish in the field (not that using the malar area is a piece of cake…).
Finally, the full article mentioned that meadowlarks often build nests that have grass roofs or covering, to shelter and hide the nest. Here‘s a photo of one such nest.