Bobolink

When we think of birds singing and nesting, we typically think of this happening in trees.  Perfectly understandable, because that’s where a lot of singing and nesting goes on.  But there are some birds that have different habits.  And in the summer, you can notice some of these birds if you happen to walk by grassland areas.  This little series will occasionally highlight some of these species.

What was that flashy bird fluttering overhead, singing a warbling profusion of notes?

Bird trivia question: what is the only American bird that’s black underneath and white on the back?  According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s excellent All About Birds website, the answer is the Bobolink.

I’ve been seeing male Bobolinks this month at Glacier Ridge Metro Park, singing and defending their grassy territories from interlopers.  It’s not uncommon to see them chasing each other- once, I saw a Bobolink chasing another Bobolink, and both of them were being chased by still another Bobolink!  It’s the season to raise a family for sure!

Bobolinks, grassy fields and June go together here in central Ohio, at least in certain fields.  Unlike other birds such as Red-Winged Blackbirds, you have to look (and listen) for this particular species.

Grassy fields at Glacier Ridge- Bobolinks like this place.

Bobolinks are long-distance migrants.  They winter as far south as Argentina, which is a long way away.  They summer in the northern half of the lower 48 states and southern Canada, in grassland areas, where they nest on the ground.  I have more respect for them, knowing how many thousands of miles they travel to get here.

A typical perch to sing from and to keep an eye on those other Bobolinks from.

Male Bobolinks are striking.  The back half of their heads are tan, and their backs have big white patches.  They are black up front, a rather different kind of color pattern.  Females are sparrowlike in color, but since Bobwhites average 7 inches long, they look like a big sparrow.  Unfortunately I haven’t got a good photograph of a female yet- they’re rather secretive right now with nesting and all.

I better keep an eye out for that one guy, he’s always trying to cross into my territory!

It seems like male Bobolinks are preoccupied with territory disputes.  Someone is bound to test the territorial lines, and a chase results.

This bush isn’t big enough for both of us.

Here we go again!

Bobolinks molt twice a year, which is unusual in the bird world- once a year is the typical rate for replacing the feathers.  When the males molt, they look similar to females because the tips of their new feathers are yellowish.  When the tips wear down, their classic plumage is revealed.

This perch is made of sturdier stuff than the usual tall weeds or bushes.

Bobolinks sing a swift, complex, almost squeaky song- you can hear it here.  In places, it almost sounds like an audio tape speeding up backwards.  Perhaps the neatest thing to observe is when this bird sings while flying.  The songster will flutter his wings while singing in an almost-glide.  Singing on the wing redeems this pugnacious birds’ reputation in my eyes.  Here’s some photos of this:

In conclusion, don’t forget- just because there may not be trees in the area doesn’t mean that birds are absent.  I’ll keep an eye out for more grassland lovers this summer, and post about them.  Enjoy the summer- but try not to get too territorial like some birds I know, there’s enough grassy spaces to go around…