Species Spotlight: Bobolink

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight, aka “Sp-Spot”. Today meet the: Bobolink

Bobolink - male breeding plumage photo by Kenneth Cole

Bobolink – male breeding plumage
photo by Kenneth Cole

Scientific Name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
SARA Status: No status; Ontario: Threatened
Taxonomic group: Birds
Size: 15.2-20.5 cm size, with a wingspan of 27 cm. Males weighs 34-56g and females 29-49g

The Bobolink is medium-sized, grassland, song bird. It has a short, pointed tail, and a short, conical bill. During the breeding season, the male’s plumage is very unique and distinctive. Black underneath  and white on the shoulders and rump contrasts sharply with the bright yellow patch on the back of its head. In the non breeding season males and females look similar with a pale bill and yellowish brown with black stripes on head and back. Immature Bobolink look similar to the female, except with more yellow.

Historically bobolink lived in North American tall grass prairies and other meadows. These habitats were altered by intensive agriculture, and today the bobolink rely on hayfields and open grasslands. Bobolinks migrate between their wintering grounds in the grasslands of central South America and their breeding areas across the northern US and southern portions of Canada. Bobolink nests on the ground between tall grasses where nests are usually well hidden. Individuals will return to the same site year after year to nest.

Like many grassland birds Bobolinks have been declining over the last fifty years. The main threat to this species is loss of breeding habitat in part caused by loss of low-intensity agricultural to more intensive farming or urban expansion. In South America the Bobolink has been perceived as an agricultural pest and exposed to the pesticides used in agriculture.

Female Bobolink photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Female Bobolink
photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Where Else Can You See This Species?
In the breeding season, Bobolink can be found in Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland, and northern United States. The winter grounds are in Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

You can see this species in our region when it’s migrating mainly in mid-May and June and again in early to mid-August. You can also spot the Bobolink during its breeding season in suitable grassland areas.

Did you know?
•    Bobolink has one of the longest annual migrations for songbirds; they fly around 20,000 km round trip.
•    Males and Females migrate separate groups in the spring, but together in the fall.
•    During breeding season, males like to sing a long bubbling song while flying low in their territories displaying a distinctive circular flight. This song sounds very similar to the beeping of the Star Wars robot R2-D2.

Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes.
You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and a location are very helpful!

We would like to thank our guest blogger Monica Reyes for this post. Monica is a conservation volunteer for Nature Canada. She is a biologist from Mexico interested in wildlife conservation and environmental education.

this initiative is funded by