BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus

adult male
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult female
Rob Curtis/VIREO
fledgling
Tom Friedel/VIREO
adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Lloyd Spitalnik/VIREO
adult male
Rob Curtis/VIREO

Description

Fluttering over meadows and hayfields in summer, the male Bobolink delivers a bubbling, tinkling song which, loosely interpreted, gives the species its name. The male is unmistakable in spring finery, but before fall migration he molts into a striped brown appearance like that of the female. Bobolinks in this plumage were once known as "ricebirds" in the South, where they occasionally used to cause serious damage in the ricefields.

Habitat

Hayfields, meadows. In migration, marshes. Original prime breeding areas were damp meadows and natural prairies with dense growth of grass and weeds and a few low bushes. Such habitats still favored but hard to find, and today most Bobolinks in eastern United States nest in hayfields. Migrants stop over in fields and marshes, often feeding in rice fields.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Majority of summer diet is insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, wasps, ants, and many others, also spiders and millipedes. Also eats many seeds of weeds, grasses, and grains. May feed more heavily on grain during migration, and in former times caused much damage in southern rice fields. In winter in the tropics, may also eat some berries.

Feeding Behavior

Forages for insects and seeds both on the ground and while perched up in grass and weed stalks. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.

Nesting

Males arrive before females on nesting grounds, and display by flying over fields with shallow fluttering wingbeats while singing. In courtship on the ground, male spreads tail, droops wings, points bill down so that yellow nape is prominent. Nest: Placed on the ground (or rarely just above it), well hidden among dense grass and weeds. Typical ground nest is a slight depression holding a shallow open cup of grass and weed stems, lined with finer grasses. Eggs: 5-6, sometimes 4-7. Grayish to pale reddish brown, heavily blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 11-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-14 days after hatching, generally before they are able to fly. 1 brood per year.

Eggs

5-6, sometimes 4-7. Grayish to pale reddish brown, heavily blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 11-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-14 days after hatching, generally before they are able to fly. 1 brood per year.

Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-14 days after hatching, generally before they are able to fly. 1 brood per year.

Conservation

Declining significantly in recent decades; loss of nesting habitat is a likely cause.

Range

Migrates in flocks. A long-distance migrant, wintering in southern South America, traveling mostly via Florida and the West Indies, with few occurring in Mexico or Central America.

Listen

alarm calls of pair
extended song given in flight
pink calls
various calls
song #2
song #2

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

Lark Bunting

On the western plains in early summer the male Lark Bunting is impossible to overlook, as it flutters up from the grass to deliver its varied flight song. In winter, when males and female alike are patterned in streaky brown, the species is more subtle. Winter flocks of Lark Buntings occur in dry open fields, where they suggest chunky, big-billed sparrows. When they fly, however, in compact flocks sweeping low over the ground, some of them will flash patches of white or buff in the wings.

adult male

Dickcissel

In the Midwest in summer, male Dickcissels sometimes seem to sing their name from every wire, fencepost, or weed stalk in prairie or farming country. Very erratic in summer occurrence, they may nest in large numbers in an area one year and be totally absent there the next, presumably as a response to rainfall and its effect on habitat. Away from their mid-continent stronghold, migrant Dickcissels are often detected by their electric-buzzer callnote as they fly overhead.

adult, breeding

Eastern Meadowlark

A familiar bird, known by the black "V" on its chest when it sings from a fencepost, or by the flash of white tail feathers when it flushes from the grass. The clear whistled song of the Eastern Meadowlark can be heard in spring not only in the East but also in desert grasslands of the Southwest. Some scientists believe that the southwestern form is actually a different species. Other races of the Eastern Meadowlark are widespread in Central America and northern South America.

adult, breeding

Western Meadowlark

Remarkably similar to the Eastern Meadowlark in colors and pattern, this bird is recognized by its very different song and callnotes. The two species of meadowlarks evidently can easily recognize their own kind the same way; even where their ranges overlap in the Midwest and Southwest, they almost never interbreed. However, the two species do seem to see each other as potential rivals, and they actively defend territories against each other.

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