This genus includes seven species of largely insectivorous grassland birds. In all species the male at least has a black or brown back and extensively red or yellow underparts.
List of species
There are seven widely accepted members of the genus. There is disagreement among authorities as to whether Lilian's meadowlark should be ranked as a full species or a subspecies.
Red-breasted species, predominantly South American
- Red-breasted meadowlark (formerly red-breasted blackbird), Sturnella militaris
- White-browed meadowlark (formerly white-browed blackbird), Sturnella superciliaris
- Peruvian meadowlark, Sturnella bellicosa
- Pampas meadowlark, Sturnella defillippi
- Long-tailed meadowlark, Sturnella loyca
Yellow-breasted species, predominantly North American
- Eastern meadowlark, Sturnella magna
- Lilian's meadowlark, S. m. lilianae
- Western meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
As a group, the meadowlarks have had a volatile taxonomic history. When Carl Linnaeus described the eastern meadowlark (the first of the meadowlarks to be scientifically described) in his epic 10th edition of Systema Naturae in 1758, he thought it was related to the Old World larks, and so put it in the genus Alauda with them. In the same work, he put the red-breasted blackbird in the bunting genus Emberiza. Less than a decade later, he described the eastern meadowlark again, this time putting it into the starling genus Sturnus, which Juan Ignacio Molina additionally used when he first described the long-tailed meadowlark in 1782. In 1816, Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot created the genus Sturnella, moving the meadowlarks into his new taxon. Most taxonomists accepted the new genus, and the western meadowlark, Peruvian meadowlark and Lilian's meadowlark were all placed in this taxon when they were later described. When Charles Lucien Bonaparte described the white-browed blackbird and pampas meadowlark, however, he assigned them to another newly created genus — Trupialis, for what he called "ground-starlings"; he moved the red-breasted blackbird into that now-defunct genus as well.
By the early twentieth century, the meadowlarks were split again. Only the "yellow-breasted" meadowlarks (eastern and western meadowlarks, including Lilian's) remained in the genus Sturnella. The red-breasted and white-browed blackbirds were moved to the genus Leistes, while the pampas meadowlark, Peruvian meadowlark and long-tailed meadowlark made up the genus Pezites, which was established by Cabanis in 1851.