The Bobolink: A Backward Colored Bird

I remember childhood stories about Bobolinks and of them singing: “bobolink-bobolink-spink-spank-spink”. Whether that’s the correct song or not, this is a species that is named for its bubbly song rendered while in flight. It also has the following nick-names: “Rice-bird”, “Reed-bird”, Meadow-wink”, “Skunk-bird”, and “Butter-bird”.

This “rowdy” of the meadow is an open grassland bird. Its range starts at the western end of the Great Plains and extends eastward, although a straggler may sometimes be seen in the west where there is plenty of open space and weed seeds to consume. They love grains, especially rice, but will eat large quantities of weed and grass seeds.

The coloration of this bird is most unusual. In fact, I know of no other North American bird that is plain on the underside, while its dorsal surfaces are the colored body areas. It is black underneath, but its back is white – blending into gray at the posterior end. The back of the head is straw-colored. Its seed eating beak is short, conical, and black. The male is similar to the Lark Bunting, while the female resembles a sparrow.

Bobolinks nest in pastures, or hay fields, on the ground in slight depressions.The males are polygamous, forming pair bonds with up to four nesting females. They spend most of their time at the first mate’s nest, helping raise the young. The other “wives” receive help only if the male feels he can spare the time. Three to seven eggs are laid and other females, or an unattached male, may aid in the feeding chores.

This species migrates all the way to Argentina’s grasslands, reaching that destination in October. The migration is done at night. The return trip to the States is accomplished in May.

The featured photograph was shot in central Montana.

A Bobolink singing on a cow pasture fence

Singing on a cow pasture fence

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