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Bobolink

Dolichonyx oryzivorus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Perched on a grass stem or displaying in flight over a field, breeding male Bobolinks are striking. No other North American bird has a white back and black underparts (some have described this look as wearing a tuxedo backwards). Added to this are the male’s rich, straw-colored patch on the head and his bubbling, virtuosic song. As summer ends he molts into a buff and brown female-like plumage. Though they’re still fairly common in grasslands, Bobolink numbers are declining.

Bird Festivals
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4

Songs

The male sings a metallic, bubbly, rambling song with a mixture of sharp high notes and buzzy low pitches. He sings from perches and in flight throughout the breeding season, but mostly while establishing a territory and courting females. Each male has 2 song types, each composed of 25–50 notes in a fixed sequence, lasting about 3.5 seconds.

Calls

Bobolinks use a pink sound all year round to communicate within flocks, and they have several additional calls during the breeding season. Males give chunk, chenk, and see-yew calls when disturbed by intruders, buzzes during courtship display, and staccato check notes while pursuing other males. Females respond to intruders with chunk and quipt notes, and use quiet zeep notes when conflicting with other individuals.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

If there’s breeding habitat of grassy pasture or overgrown fields near your home, Bobolinks may visit open yards to forage on seed-bearing weeds.

Find This Bird

It’s easiest to find Bobolinks if you look for males giving their display flights during spring and early summer. In grassy or overgrown fields and pastures, listen for a long, burbling song punctuated with sharp metallic notes. The male Bobolink often sings this song while flying in a peculiar helicopter-like pattern, moving slowly with his wings fluttering rapidly. Outside of the breeding season, look for these long-distance migrants in rice fields and listen for their sharp pink call notes.

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