Mockingbird leaves the meadow to the meadowlarks

Mockingbird leaves the meadow to the meadowlarks

Whether I’m racing the clock in the morning or a rain shower in the afternoon, the shortest route on my daily bicycle commute between Orrville and Wooster is quick and convenient. It’s not much by way of adventure, however, especially when compared to my old daily ride to Millersburg. The good news is there are a thousand and one ways to extend my route between home and work. And given the prevailing winds of summertime are typically in my favor while traveling from west to east, an extended glide home is the rule rather than the exception. There’s always plenty to see if you choose to avoid straight lines.

Last week I dipped down into some of the territory of my old ride south of U.S. 30 to check on an old friend. There’s a certain hilltop where I’d stumbled upon a particularly vocal northern mockingbird years ago, and I’d made it a point to swing by the spot in each of the ensuing years to stop, look and listen, just to make sure he was still at it.

Sadly, once I’d made it to the songster’s traditional spot, I found the apple tree that had hosted the bird’s favorite perch had been removed and the steep roadside bank where it had stood had been rounded to an easy-to-mow hillside. My mockingbird was gone.

In a lesson from nature we see time and time again, however, there was something else in its place that was just as worthy of a thought-filled pause. Perched on brand-new fence post a stone’s throw from the grassy knoll was an eastern meadowlark singing away in all its sunflower-breasted glory. The presence of that particular species struck me as interestingly appropriate.

Back in the days before our portion of Ohio was settled, it was largely covered with thick and ancient forests — pretty much the last place you’d find a meadowlark. As forests were cleared to make way for crop fields and pastures, however, settlers inadvertently created a new and entirely appropriate space for the meadowlark. The species’ population increased right along with the number of acres put to agricultural use.

A ground nesting bird, the meadowlark makes its living off insects and seeds found in abundance within the thick-growing cover of its native grasslands and prairie. And while the meadow portion of its name is entirely appropriate, given the bird’s preferred habitat, the lark portion of the moniker is a misnomer. The meadowlark is not a true lark but is, instead, more closely related to the red-winged blackbird and oriole. The only true lark in North America is the horned lark, an equally beautiful creature.

While the meadow lark benefited greatly by man’s agricultural tendencies, it also faces threats created by the same. Use of chemical pesticides that diminish the food web upon which the bird relies and the loss of habitat as land is developed away from agriculture continue to take a toll on meadowlark numbers.

As for my missing mockingbird, I found him a quarter-mile down the road singing from the top of a power pole not far from his new favorite apple tree.

Remember, if you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com. You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.