Bobolink is our most unusual blackbird

The Bobolink is another blackbird which is “different.” It has a short, stubby beak, and is quite a bit smaller than a robin.
The male bird is quite handsome in jet black and white, with a big buff patch on the back of its head and neck. The female is brownish with some darker striping, much like some of our common sparrows.
The song of the Bobolink is quite unique. A rollicking, bubbly song, it speeds up as it goes, the notes rising in pitch. It usually sings as it flies but also on a post or sometimes on the ground.
This is where the name comes from–its bobbling, tinkling song.
The male bird does not retain his fancy duds for the whole year. Early in the fall, he goes through a molt in which he loses his classy feathering and becomes dull and brown, much like the female.
He also stops singing.
But this loss of feathers is almost unique among the world of songbirds because he does it twice. In the spring, he molts again–and gets back his finery.
Bobolinks breed all across the southern part of Canada and the northern U.S. from coast to coast. They breed in marshes and river valleys but we tend to think of them as birds of hayfields and pastures.
Early haying often destroys a great many of these birds. The species actually went downhill for many years in New England because of this very reason.
Also, in the early days, these birds were slaughtered for sale by hunters in the southern U.S. In one year alone, some 7.2 million birds were sold in the eastern cities.
This type of hunting has long since ceased but the Bobolink has never recovered to its original numbers.
Now, this is a bird which really migrates in a big way. Most of the Bobolinks–even those which breed in the west–head towards the Atlantic. Then they turn south.
Many go through Florida and the Caribbean but a lot go directly from Nova Scotia and New England to South America. This is a marathon flight but that’s not all–they go all the way to south Brazil and Argentina.
All in all, Bobolinks travel about 6,000 miles–one way–in their migration. Some trip!
In the southern States and in South America, these beautiful birds of ours are a real pest. The “rice birds” really do eat huge amounts of rice. They are just about persecuted in South America, where the hunting laws are very lax.
Probably millions are shot each year.
As you would expect, the Bobolink nests in the tall grass in meadows and open fields. The nest is not much, just some grass and weeds formed into a cup.
While Bobolinks are with us, a lot of their food is made up of insects. But in the fall and winter, they live almost exclusively on grain of one sort or another.
The Bobolink (Dolychonyx orzyvorus) is surely the most unusual blackbird we have. They gather in great flocks in the fall, just like other blackbirds. The noise they make is terrible, too, just like other blackbirds.
In the spring and summer, listen for that happy, boisterous song, or the familiar “chink.” These will tell you the Bobolink has returned to his meadow, and that summer is back again.

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