The Bobolink’s appearance is so striking in part because it reverses the usual pattern of plumage being darker above and paler below. Highly gregarious during most of the year, Bobolinks vigorously defend territories during the breeding season.
Bobolinks travel very large distances during migration each spring and fall, amounting to 6,000 miles each way. Magnetic materials in their bodies respond to the earth’s magnetic field and orient their travel to the proper direction, north in the spring and south in the fall. The stars then function as a map for fine tuning the route.
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Description of the Bobolink
The Bobolink is strongly sexually dimorphic in the breeding season, with a black crown being the only notable plumage similarity between the sexes.
Males have an unusual reverse pattern of being paler above than below. They have a black crown, face, and underparts, a yellow nape, and a white rump and scapulars. Length: 7 in. Wingspan: 11 in.
Females are brownish and streaked above, with pale underparts, a pale nape, and a pale supercilium with a black line behind the eye.
Seasonal change in appearance
Winter adults resemble breeding females, but are much buffier above and below.
Juveniles are similar to winter adults.
Bobolinks inhabit meadows, dense prairies, and hayfields.
Bobolinks eat insects and seeds.
Bobolinks forage on the ground and in grasses or weeds.
Bobolinks breed across much of the northern half of the U.S. and in southwestern Canada. They winter in South America. The population has declined in recent decades.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Bobolink.
The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
Bobolinks occur in flocks, except during the breeding season.
Male Bobolinks have a fluttery display flight that is performed while singing.
The song consists of a pleasantly bubbly warble. A “chuck” call is given as well.
Purchase the ringtone for this species at www.feathertalk.com
Female Bobolinks somewhat resemble sparrows, but are larger.
The Grasshopper Sparrow is smaller, has smaller bill and flatter head than a Bobolink. Also fewer marks on side.
The Bobolink’s nest is a cup of grasses and weeds and is lined with finer materials. It is placed on the ground in dense cover.
Number: Usually 5-6.
Color: Grayish in color with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 11-13 days, and fledge at about 8-14 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Bobolink
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Bobolink – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
DOLICHONYX ORYZIVORUS (Linnaeus)
Our familiar bobolink is known by various names in different parts of its seasonal wanderings. We know it in the north by the above common name, which has stood for many years and is evidently an abbreviation of “Robert of Lincoln” in the classic poem of that name by William Cullen Bryant. In New England it is sometimes called by the pretty name, “meadow-wink,” and the less complimentary name. “skunk blackbird.” owing to its fancied resemblance in color pattern to that unpopular animal. On its fall migration it is recognized as “ortolan.” “reed bird.” and “rice bird” on account of its haunts and habits, and, in Jamaica, where it has grown exceedingly fat, they call it “butter bird.” On its spring migration through the southern States, it is often called the “May bird.”
Unfortunately for us New Englanders our beloved bobolink has largely disappeared, or at least has been greatly reduced in numbers in most of its former haunts, during the past 50 years. In my youthful days nearly every mowing field of long, waving grass, many of the damper meadows near our streams, and some of the drier portions of the brackish marshes furnished attractive homes for one or more pairs, often many pairs, of bobolinks. In driving through the open country past such places we could always count on seeing some of these showy birds hovering in ecstatic flight just above the tall grasses, the waving white daisies, and the bright yellow buttercups, pouring out a flood of bubbling, erratic song. They were always conspicuous to both eye and ear, forming one of the delights of a springtime ramble. But this is now mainly a happy memory, for there are so few places where they can now be found that it is an event of importance if we see one.
The partial disappearance of the bobolink from the Northeastern States has been due to several very evident causes. The heavy slaughter of the migrating hordes, both spring and fall, as will be discussed later, has perhaps killed off a large proportion of the birds that formerly nested in New England. Fortunately, due to the reduction in the cultivation of rice in the Southern States, this slaughter has been largely stopped and the birds are more rigidly protected everywhere. Another cause of less importance was the wholesale killing of “reed birds” for the market, but this is now prohibited by law. But the New England population of bobolinks has not been built up to its former proportions. A local cause here that has also had its effect in driving away our breeding birds is a decided change in the time and in the methods of harvesting our hay crops. Formerly, the grass in our mowing fields, the favorite nesting places for bobolinks, was cut by hand and rarely before the first or middle of July. By that time the young bobolinks were out of the nest and safely on the wing. Now the mowing is done earlier, usually before the end of June, the grass is cut close with mowing machines, and the hay is scraped off by machine rakes. Many young birds would thus be killed while still in the nests or before they were able to escape by flight. This naturally drove the birds away to seek safer nesting grounds. Furthermore, with the passing of the horse much less hay has been needed, and there are fewer fields of the tall grass so much preferred by the bobolinks. The haying fields in Massachusetts are largely a thing of the past.
Southern New England is not the only place in the east where the bobolink has decreased in numbers. Robie W. Tufts writes to me from Nova Scotia: “My notes indicate a marked scarcity of these birds during the summer of 1919 and again in 1920. They were noticeably scarce again during the summer of 1930, and during the past summer of 1945 seemed alarmingly scarce.” Ludlow Griscom (1923) wrote referring to the New York city region: “This distinguished songster was formerly a common summer resident throughout our territory, but is now found only in the outlying and more rural districts. Its great decrease started fifty years ago when trapping the males for cage-bird purposes was a profession on large scale.” Todd (1940) remarks, for Pennsylvania: “Observers from various parts of the state agree that since the early twenties there has been a marked falling off in the numbers of this species.” And even as far west as Minnesota the bobolink is yielding ground, but not for the same reasons. Thomas S. Roberts (1932) writes: “There is some indication that the Bobolink has been decreasing in numbers in recent years and that, locally, it has almost disappeared from lowlands where it was formerly abundant. Its place has been taken by the Brewer’s Blackbird, which has swept eastward across the state and is now abundant even in the southeastern counties. It lives and nests here under exactly the same conditions as the Bobolink and, being a larger and more aggressive bird, there is reason to fear that it is driving the Bobolink from its former domain.”
While the bobolink has been discouraged and its numbers have been depleted in many of its eastern breeding resorts, it has been encouraged to extend its range and to increase in abundance farther west until it is now a common breeding bird across the entire continent in the northern States and the southern Provinces of Canada. It apparently never liked to nest on the virgin prairies but it followed civilization westward, and with the settlement of the country it found congenial nesting sites in cultivated grasslands and clover fields. The westward movement evidently began many years ago, for Ridgway (1877) wrote: “The Bo’olink seems to be spreading over all the districts of the ‘Far West’ wherever the cultivation of cereals has extended. We found it common in August in the wheat-fields at the Overland Ranch, in Ruby Valley [Nevada].” W. L. McAtee (1919) says: “The trend of the bird’s breeding range to the northwest is unmistakable; for instance in the first edition of the A. 0. U. Check-List, the Western limit of the breeding range was given as the Great Plains; in the second edition, 1895, as Nevada, Idaho and Alberta, and in the third edition, 1910, as British Columbia.”
The bobolink began to be common and well distributed in Montana during the first decade of this century; Aretas A. Saunders (1921) recorded it as “a common summer resident of all except extreme eastern Montana, breeding in the wet meadows and irrigated fields of the prairie region, and in the valleys of the mountain region.* * *
In most parts of the state the Bobolink is increasing with the extension of irrigation.”
It apparently first appeared in Oregon about 1903. Gabrielson and Jewett (1940) say: “The Bobolink seems to be a comparatively new arrival in this State, as so good an observer as Bendire failed to find it in the Harney Valley during his stay, through it is now a regular resident of that area.”
And for California, Dawson (1923) writes: “It was the chief surprise of a visit paid in 1912 to the Surprise Valley in Modoc County to find the Bobolink common and, apparently, breeding.” According to Grinnell and Miller (1944), it is now a “summer resident in extreme northeastern part of State, where there is at least one colony. Rare straggler to other sections, chiefly in the autumn.”
Spring: From its winter home in South America, as far south as south Brazil, northern Argentina, and Paraguay, the bobolink makes a very long and somewhat hazardous flight to its summer home, which extends from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. It enters the United States on a broad front, from Florida to Louisiana, with possibly a few migrating along the coast of Texas .
Just when the bobolinks leave their winter home or by what route they reach the north coast of South America does not seem to be known. Thence the main flight is almost directly northward. Only a few, perhaps only stragglers, follow an eastern route, through the Lesser Antilles and the Bahamas to Florida .
The species is rarely mentioned by observers in the West Indies, but Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1874) say:
Dr. Bryant, in his visit to the Bahamas, was eye-witness to the migrations northward of these birds, as they passed through those islands. He first noted them on the 6th of May, towards sunset. A number of flocks: he counted nine: were flying westward. On the following day the country was filled with these birds, and men and boys turned out in large numbers to shoot them. He examined a quantity of them, and all were males in full plumage. Numerous flocks continued to arrive that day and the following, which was Sunday. On Monday, among those that were shot were many females. On Tuesday but few were to be seen, and on Wednesday they had entirely disappeared.
The main flight passes farther westward, where thousands make the 500-mile flight directly across the Caribbean Sea to Jamaica, then 90 miles more to Cuba, and another oversea flight of 150 miles to Florida. Jamaica is passed in April, it does not linger long in Cuba, and reaches northern Florida before the end of April. While we were cruising south of the Florida Keys, on April 24, 1903, a steady stream of bobolinks, water-thrushes, and other small land birds passed our boat, flying northward from Cuba to Florida against strong northerly winds; they seemed much exhausted; a bobolink attempted to alight on our boat but missed it and fell into the water, from which we did not see it rise; another alighted on the cabin and was so tired that it allowed us to pick it up. Many birds must perish on these long flights over open water against adverse winds, but some are probably able to rise from the surface after resting there for a while. Vincent E. Shainin (1940) saw this happen off the coast of Florida, during the spring migration from the Bahamas. “Using my eight-power binocular I was amazed to see a male Bobolink (Doliehomyx oryzivorus) riding the swells with both its head and tail held at right angles to the surface. Occasionally its back would appear above the water. * * * For a few seconds it remained very still, then it began to struggle vigorously for several seconds, finally leaving the water directly without pattering along in coot fashion.”
Bobolinks also reach the United States by a trans-Gull migration, from Yucatdn to Louisiana, another long overwater flight. George H. Lowery, Jr. (MS.), reports that one came aboard his ship for a few minutes and then disappeared, on May 2, 1945, while the ship was 210 miles from Yucatan and 328 miles from the coast of Louisiana. Audubon (1842) says:
In Louisiana, small detached flocks of males or of females appear about the middle of March and beginning of April, alighting in the meadows and grainfields, where they pick up the grubs and insects found about the roots of the blades.* * *
During their sojourn in Louisiana, in spring, their song, which is extremely interesting, and emitted with a volubility bordering on the burlesque, is heard from a whole party at the same time~ when, as each individual is, of course, possessed of the same musical powers as is his neighbours, it becomes amusing to listen to thirty or forty of them beginning one after another, as if ordered to follow in quick succession, after the first notes are given by a leader, and producing such a medley as it is impossible to describe, although it is extremely pleasant to hear it. While you are listening, the whole flock simultaneously ceases, which appears equally extraordinary. This curious exhibition takes place every time that the flock has alighted on a tree, after feeding for awhile on the ground, and is renewed at intervals during the day.
Bobolinks are, apparently, somewhat irregular in their appearance and never very abundant in Louisiana in spring, whence they migrate northward through the Mississippi Valley in moderate numbers; they are generally regarded as only fairly common, or even rare, in the southern half of this Valley. This would seem to indicate that the large numbers of these birds that nest in the more western States and Provinces must reach their breeding grounds by a westward migration from some of the Atlantic States.
The flood tide of the great spring migration flows rapidly in a nearly northward direction through the Atlantic States, mainly east of the Alleghenies, and reaches the northern breeding grounds during the last of April or early in May. Some observers say that it migrates by day and others regard it as a night traveler; perhaps circumstances vary and botb are partially correct. Bendire (1895) quotes the following from W. M. Hazzard, of Annandale, S. C.: “The Bobolinks make their appearance here during the latter part of April. At that season their plumage is wbite and black, and they sing merrily when at rest. Their flight is always at night. In the evening there are none. In the morning their appearance is heralded by the popping of whips and firing of musketry by the bird minders in their efforts to keep the birds from pulling up the young rice. This warfare is kept up incessantly until about the 25th of May, when they suddenly disappear at night.”
In Massachusetts, we eagerly await their arrival around the 10th of May and are seldom disappointed, as their jovial, rollicking songs bring life to the fresh, green meadows.
Courtship: The males arrive a few days or a week in advance of the females, to select their nesting territories and to indulge in a few days of jolly frolic and exuberant song; the fields and meadows are now being clothed with fresh green grass and the trees are bursting into new foliage. The carefree birds are singing in little groups in the trees, or chasing each other about over their chosen homes. When the females come, courting begins in earnest; this largely consists of rivalry in song, as the handsome male in full nuptial dress pours out his joyous melody while perched on some tall, waving weed stalk, low tree, or fence. Often a “game of tag” ensues, as the female flies across the field, with two males in hot pursuit, as if she were saying “catch me if you can.” More often the female seems coy and indifferent, hiding in the long grass, until the rival males find her and display their charms before her. As Townsend (1920) says: “One may see a male courting on the ground. He spreads his tail and forcibly drags it like a Pigeon. He erects his buff nape feathers, points his bill downward and partly open his wings, gurgling meanwhile a few of his song notes. The female indifferently walks away.”
The following attractive account is written by Miss Ruth Trimble (Todd, 1940):
On a morning in early May, in one of their favored haunts, a tinkle of fairy music, like the strains of an old Greek harp, seems to come from the sky and may be traced to a company of male bobolinks, circling on fluttering wings high above. While you watch, the tinkling notes descend earthward, and an exuberant male sinks to a swaying weed stalk; with tail spread, wings partly opened, and feathers of his nape ruffled, he concludes his song with a few enchanting notes addressed to the mate he is wooing. Up she darts from the grasses to engage him in a lively chase, and in a flash he is off again in pursuit: an ardent troubadour, serenading hislady as he follows her; at times, seemingly forgetting her, he mounts skyward, his throat fairly bursting with the ecstatic melody that bespeaks his jole de vivre. No other bird courtship exhibits such reckless abandon. None is attended by such a flood of joyous music bubbling forth irrepressibly, with never a plaintive strain. No other wooing seems so delightfully spontaneous and gay. This wanton frolin may continue for a week or more before nest-building is actually begun and the female assumes responsibility for her family .
Dr. Kendeigh (1941) made some interesting observations on the family relations of the bobolink on a restored prairie in Iowa:
There were ten females here, but evidence for no more than six males, with polygamy strongly indicated. The male at nest No. 1 was frequently present also at nest No. 7 about 200 feet away, although he was only seen to feed the young at No. 1. He was recognized by the characteristically clipped tail given him when caught at nest No. 1; no other male was seen around nest No. 7. Nests number 9 and 10 were separated by only 44 feet and the male appeared equally concerned for both nests, although he was observed feeding young only at number 9. No other male was seen here.* * *
Notable in this species was the lack of territorial defense by either the adult male or female. If these birds establish a territory at all, it must be only for the mating and early nesting period. A fairly good spacing of the nests over the area would indicate that they may establish territories during the period when nests are started, but certainly after the young are hatched there is very little evidence for their continued maintenance.* * *
Lack of territory was also manifested by the tolerance of other males close to the nest. This was often noticed; once two foreign males were observed near the nest with the male who owned it disregarding them.
P. L. Buttrick (1909) gives further evidence of polygamy among bobolinks. One male and two females, the only bobolinks in the vicinity, raised four broods in two adjacent fields .
Nesting: The nest of the bobolink is a very simple affair: a hollow, either scraped in the ground or selected for the purpose, loosely surrounded with coarse grasses or weed stems and thinly lined with finer grasses. The nest is sometimes placed in an old wagon rut or in a depression made by a horse’s hoof. A. D. Du Bois mentions in his notes a nest that was in a hollow 3 inches in diameter by 1 inch deep; the measurements of the nest were: “Diameter 2.12 to 2.25 inches; depth 1.62 inch.” This was evidently quite typical as to size. He mentions another nest that was “sunk among the bases of the standing tall grases; but there was no hollow in the ground; the bottom of the nest was approximately at the ground surface.”
What the flimsy nest of the bobolink lacks in construction it makes up for in concealment; it is almost invariably placed in a dense stand of tall vegetation, in the long grass of some luxuriant mowing field or damp meadow, in a field of clover, alfalfa, or in a thick growth of weeds or other wild plants.
Elisha Slade (1881a), who formerly lived in a town near me and was well known locally, describes two most remarkable nests. The first was: occupying the space between four stalks of a growing narrow dock (Rume.z crispuo). This nest was suspended from four points of its circumference, 900 apart, to the four stalks of the plant which grew from the same root. The bottom of the nest was about six inches above the ground. It was constructed entirely of vegetable material and consisted of two distinctly separate parts. A hemispherical cup, in one piece of coarse but neatly woven cloth, very strong and very light, was fastened to the living, growing supports by strong fibres passing around each stalk above and below a joint firmly woven into the rim of the cup with some of the longer strings interlacing the sides.* * *
In this hanging basket was an elaborate lining of very soft blades of grass between which and the cup was an elastic padding. The woven cup was about five inches in diameter and five inches deep, the padding about half an inch thick, and the lining about the same thickness. The whole structure, dock and nest, swayed in every passing breeze but the nest was so strongly fastened to the stalks and the plant so securely held by the nest t.hat it would have required a hurricane or tornado to have blown it away.
He claims to have found a similar nest, 22 years later, at the same place and in a similar plant. This all sounds like a fairy tale, but is printed here for what it is worth, as an interesting suggestion that the cloth cup may have been placed there by human hands. It seems incredible that a bobolink could have built such a nest, or even been tempted to occupy it.
The evidence indicates that the male selects the general locality for the nesting, which he occupies until the female arrives and is persuaded to remain there; she, then, probably selects the exact spot in which the nest is to be placed and does all the simple construction. Alexander F. Skutch, in his notes from Ithaca, N. Y., says: “In a field of alfalfa and grass where many males are singing, I have watched long to see a female building, but all in vain. I think that they must work under cover to avoid molestation by the too ardent males. May 28, 1931: Today [found a nest that already contained two Eggs: a sparse and shallow cup of dried grass stems placed on the ground in the center of a clump of alfalfa, in a rather bare part of the generally lush meadow.”
The nest of the bobolink is one of the most difficult to find. The female can almost never be traced to it during the simple process of building, for the small amount of building material can generally be picked up in the immediate vicinity, without having to bring in anything from a distance. The female can seldom be flushed directly from the nest, as she runs for some distance through the grass before flying. I have tried dragging a rope over a field where the birds were nesting, but there was never any nest where any of the birds flushed. The only method I have used with any degree of success is to run wildly back and forth over the field until all the females were flushed, then conceal myself and watch for their return; after marking down the exact spot at which a female alighted, I then might, if I ran quickly to the spot, flush her near enough to me to be able to find the nest by going over the ground carefully on hands and knees.
Dawson (1903) says: “If you care to spend an hour or so hunting for the treasures, the safest way is to mark the spot where the bird rose, and then hunt toward your original position along the line of approach.” Skutch (MS.) tells of his method, whicb worked successfully: “Whenever I came close to their nest, the bobolinks made no cries nor demonstrations of alarm, but withdrew to a very respectful distance and eyed me quietly: only the male at times letting a few melodious tinkles escape his muffled bell. The parent bobolinks trusted implicitly in their nest’s concealment; any demonstration would be superfluous or foolhardy. ** * Finally I set up some branches in the ground in the general region of the nest. Returning with food, the bobolinks rested on these before dropping down out of sight amid the grass. Noting the direction they took when leaving the first branch to go to the nest, I set up another on that side, on which the parents alighted when they next returned. And so, by giving myself closer and closer points of reference, I at length discovered the frail cup of grasses, on the ground between the stems of a daisy plant.”
Lyle Miller, of Youngstown, Ohio, writes to me: “Twice I have flushed the female directly from the nest. On several occasions I have found it necessary to touch the brooding bird before she would leave the nest.”
Eggs: The bobolink lays from four to seven eggs to a set, usually five or six, and only one brood is raised in a season. Bendire (1895) describes the eggs as follows:
The eggs are ovate or short ovate in shape. The shell is close grained and somewhat glossy. The ground color varies from pearl gray or pale ecru drab to a pale reddish brown or pale cinnamon rufous. They are irregularly blotched and spotted with different shades of claret brown, chocolate, heliotrope purple, and lavender markings, intermingled with each other, and varying greatly in size and intensity. Almost every set is differently marked, and it is extremely difficult to give a fair average description. In some specimens the ground color is almost hidden, the markings being nearly evenly distributed in the shape of large blotches over the entire surface of the egg. In the majority, however, the darker markings are mainly confined to the larger end of the egg, while the paler ones are more noticeable in the middle and about the smaller end.
The average measurement of seventy-seven specimens in the United States National Museum collection is 21.08 by 16.71 millimeters, or 0.83 by 0.62 inch. The largest egg in this series measures 22.35 by 16.26 millimeters, or 0.88 by 0.64 inch; the smallest, 17.53 by 15.24 millimeters, or 0.69 by 0.60 inch .
William George F. Harris has in his collection a set of eggs larger than any in the National Museum; these measure 23.9 by 16.2, 24.1 by 16.1, 23.9 by 16.4, 23.8 by 16.2, and 24.0 by 16.1 millimeters.
Young: The period of incubation for the bobolink is given by F. L. Burns (1915) as 10 days, but Mrs. Wheelock (1904) says: “The mother bird broods alone for thirteen days, while Robert frolics gayly over the fields with others of his sex, always within call, but seldom or never feeding her. When the young are hatched, however, he takes charge of them, and I have found him alone with a brood of seven nestlings huddled in a fence corner in Michigan.” E. H. Eaton (1914) says: “The young are hatched in about 11 days and develop very rapidly so that they are able to take wing in from 10 to 14 days.” He probably means that they leave the nest at this age, for it is well known that the young leave the nest and wander around in the grass for several days before they learn to fly; at this stage many would be idiled by early mowing and raking. While still in the nest, the young are practically invisible; packed in as closely as sardines in a box, they show no form or shape, remaining absolutely immovable and with eyes closed; and their colors match the surrounding earth so closely that one could step on them without seeing them. Only when one of the parents comes with food do they wake up and give the buzzing food call.
A. D. Du Bois has sent me some very full notes on the behavior of a pair of bobolinks and their young, from which I can quote only a few parts: “June 14 (midmorning): All the eggs appear to have hatched. The female jumps over the grass for a distance of three or four feet, then hobbles along in the grass; and, if I follow her, she repeats this: and continues to repeat until we are perhaps a hundred feet from the nest, when she flies for a short distance. This is the pattern of her ruse.
As I return toward her nest she sits on a small shrub, and now and then utters a note which sounds like quick. In the afternoon, while I was sitting on the ground adjusting a small observation blind five or six yards from the nest, the female came rather near, calling quick; the male came up and perched on a tall spray of wild asparagus, calling rather anxiously a note different from hers.
“June 16 (between 8 and 9 a. in.): While hidden in the blind trying to photograph the male on the nearby asparagus, I saw the female go to the nest two or three times to feed the young. Both parents were agitated and continued chirping for some time after I was hidden. Upon examining the nest I found one almost naked nestling outside (two or three inches away) with its head down in the grass. It kicked when I touched it. As I was leaving, the male used the jumping retreat, similar to that of the female.
“June 18: I can see only three young in the nest; they have grown rapidly; and there is one unhatched egg, which had hitherto been hidden. The male is very communicative. When I was thinning the onion seedlings in the garden he sat on a nearby bean pole berating me and singing to me repeatedly. This evening he followed me across the garden.
“June 21: There was a great deal of alarm-calling on the part of both parents when I went out this morning. After I had become well settled in the blind both parents came to the tall asparagus, and I thought I saw a little billing. Soon I saw one of the youngsters scrambling out of the nest; and before 8:30 a. m. they all had left and were crawling away in the tall grass. * * * During my stay in the blind, the male bobolink did the watching and guarding while the female did the feeding; then he brought food to the young who were hidden in the grass at some distance from the nest. He alighted on the asparagus before taking food to them. He brought green larvae, a dark miller, and an insect which looked like a brown wasp. The female once brought a white object which had the appearance of being hard and about the size of a small seed of sweet corn. All the commotion was repeated when I made another visit, near noon, to try to locate the young. After I was hidden and all had become quiet again, I could hear a youngster in the grass only a few feet from the nest. Occasionally it uttered a note resembling the syllable chib, and it moved the grass so that I got its location and went out and found it. But before I reached the spot it had half buried itself, head downward, in the thick mat about the grass roots. Thus all its forward parts were hidden, and only its legs and the posterior extremity of its body were visible. While I was trying to part the overhanging grass sufficiently to photograph it in this position, it was overcome by some great discomfort and quickly unburied itself, squirmed, shook itself, and sat right-side-up. * * * The last three nestlings which left the nest in the forenoon of June 21, were not less than 7 nor more than 8~ days old when they left.”
Plumages: The striking plumage changes of the male bobolink are well, and I believe correctly, described by Jonathan Dwight, Jr. (1900), one of the best authorities on the plummages of passerine birds. He calls the natal down buff, and describes the juvenal plumage as follows: “Above, dull brownish black, median crown stripe, superciliary line, nuchal band and edgings of the other feathers of back and wings buff deepest on nape; primaries, their coverts, secondaries and alulae tipped with grayish white. Below, rich buff paler on chin and faintly flecked on sides of throat with clove-brown. A dusky postocular streak. * * * This plumage is worn but a short time and the postjuvenal moult is well advanced by the end of July as shown by four specimens in my collection.”
The first winter plumage is “acquired by a partial postjuvenal moult in July which involves the body plumage, tertiaries and wing coverts, but not the rest of the wings nor the tail.” This is “similar to the previous plumage, but darker above and yellower below, a rich ochre or maize-yellow prevailing, paler on chin and abdomen, the sides of the breast and flanks and under tail coverts conspicuously streaked with dull black veiled by the overlapping feather edges.”
The first nuptial plumage is acquired by a complete prenuptial molt. Dr. Dwight describes this plumage as “almost wholly black, the body plumage veiled by long maize-yellow feather tips. The nape is rich ochre and the scapulars white, the inner plumbeous, both edged with olive-gray. The outer primary is edged with white, the two adjacent with maize-yellow, the tertiaries, greater coverts and interseapularies with wood-brown. Rump plumbeous, upper tail coverts white, both areas veiled with olive-gray or olive-buff. Tail tipped with olive-gray.”
This is the plumage in which the birds arrive in the United States, and in many cases the maize yellow tips have not entirely worn away by the time that the birds reach their breeding grounds, the tips persisting longest on the abdomen, flanks, and under tail coverts.
The adult winter plumage is acquired “by a complete postnuptial molt beginning the end of July. Similar to first winter plumage, usually whiter below especially on the chin and middle of the abdomen, and above with rich-brown edgings expeciafly of the tertiaries. The bill becomes clay colored or purplish [it was black in the spring]. The chief differential character is however the presence of a few black feathers, usually yellow tipped, irregularly scattered on the chin and breast.”
The adult nuptial plumage is “acquired by a complete prenuptial moult in midwinter. Differs inappreciably from first nuptial dress, but it is probable that (as in other species) the yellow edgings diminish with age.”
The fact that certain male bobolinks in captivity have assumed the black spring plumage without any apparent signs of molting has led to some discussion of the old, threadbare theory of color change without molt. Dwight (1900, p. 123) has discussed fully this and the evidence offered by others, and concludes that there is not the slightest evidence to support the theory. “Nowhere among living organisms do restorative changes in tissue take place without destruction or casting off of the old. Consequently belief that a feather which regularly develops, dies and is cast off, can possibly violate such a universal law is not only contrary to common sense but contrary as well to every established fact regarding the moulting of birds.”
The sequence of molts and plumages of the female is apparently similar to that of the male, but not so conspicuous .
Food: As we know the pretty bobolink on its northern breeding grounds we can find little to complain of in its feeding habits, which are mainly beneficial to our interests, or at their worst only neutral, but when it becomes the “rice bird” in the Southern States the planters have a strong case against it. While with us in the north it feeds on insects and the seeds of useless plants, and the young are fed almost exclusively on insects, mostly harmful species. After the young are on the wing, the flocks wander about, living mainly on weed seeds, a little waste grain, and the seeds of the wild rice which grows along the borders of our streams and marshes.
Of the 291 stomachs examined by Beal (1900), 231 were collected in the Northern States from May to September, inclusive. The food was found to consist of 57.1 percent animal matter and 42.9 percent vegetable. His table lists the following average percentages for the five months: Predaceous beetles 0.6; May-beetle family 2.7; snoutbeetles 9.0; other beetles 6.7; wasps, ants, etc., 7.6; caterpillars 13.0; grasshoppers 11.5; other insects 4.6; spiders and myriapods 1.4; oats 8.3; other grain 4.1; weed seeds 16.2; and other vegetable food 14.3 percent. Aside from the trace of useful predaceous beetles and a few parasitic Hymenoptera, all the other insects are more or less harmful; the large percentages of caterpillars and grasshoppers may be placed to the credit of the bobolink. The small amount of grain eaten is of little account when compared with the large amount of noxious weed seeds such as barn-grass, panic-grass, smartweed, and ragweed.
Beal evidently found no corn in the stomachs he examined, but Warren (1890) says that, in Pennsylvania, “they visit the cornfields, and in company with the English Sparrow, prey to a more or less extent on the corn; like the sparrow they tsar open the tops of the husk and eat the milky grain.”
Forbush (1927) says of its food in New England:
The food of the Bobolink on its breeding grounds consists chiefly of insects, which comprise from about 70 per cent to over 90 per cent of its sustenance in May, June and July. Of the vast quantity of insects consumed by the bird less than 3 per cent, on the average, are beneficial species. In May it takes a small and fast dwindling per cent of grain, and in.July an increasing amount, which rises in August to about 35 percent, but decreases rapidly until at the end of September it is only about 3 percent. Its consumption of weed seeds averages about 8 percent in May, June and July, but increases rapidly in August until at the end of September it reaches over 90 percent; by that time most of the Bobolinks have left New England.
On their southward migration they feed almost exclusively on the seeds of wild rice and other useless plants, together with some grain, until they reach the cultivated rice fields in the south, where they do enormous damage; this will be discussed in a later paragraph.
E. R. Kalmbach (1914) writes: “The bobolink does exceptionally good work as a weevil destroyer, for wherever it lives near infested alfalfa fields the insect forms its most important animal food.* * *
Seven bobolinks collected in June [in Utah] had taken the weevil at an average of about 8 adults and 42 larvae per bird, to the extent of 68 per cent of the stomach contents .
In the stomach of one, 6 adults and 90 larvae formed the entire food. Another had eaten no less than 28 adults and 77 larvae, amounting to 86 per cent of the stomach contents, while a third had eaten 3 adults and 61 larvae.”
Arthur II. Howell (1932) says: “Every one of 15 Bobolinks collected in celery fields near Sanford [Florida] had fed on the destructive celery leaf-tyer (Phiyctaenia rubigalis), the remains of this insect forming 67 per cent of the total food in their stomachs.”
Behavior: Except when on their nesting grounds, bobolinks live largely in open flocks, congregating in favorable feeding grounds. The males are still in small flocks when they first arrive in their summer haunts, perching on trees or fences and indulging in frequent outbursts of glorious song. While migrating they fly high in open formation, appearing much like other small blackbirds. The hovering flight of males over their nesting grounds, or when courting their mates, is very characteristic; they proceed rather slowly on rapidly vibrating wings, a short distance above the tops of the tall grass, singing rapturously; their striking color pattern makes a pretty picture above the buttercups and daisies. On the ground, they seldom walk with the dignified gait of other blackbirds, but usually proceed by hopping or running.
Frederick C. Lincoln (1925) describes a flight behavior which I have never seen: “There was a small colony nesting near North Napoleon Lake [North Dakota] in a rank growth of milkweed (Asciepias), and while watching them on July 10 I observed a curious performance. On several occasions the males would flock together as at a prearranged signal, fly rapidly from the field in close formation for a considerable distance, and then scatter like the fragments of a bursting shell, each bird turning about and returning in a leisurely fashion to his own part of the cover.”
Skutch says in his notes: “The brown female bobolinks remain hidden in the tall grasses and weeds, where it takes sharp eyes to pick them out. As soon as a female makes her appearance, even when she has just been driven from her cover by my passage over the meadow, one or as often two males dash after her, twisting and turning to follow every quick maneuver she makes in her effort to escape their attentions, and not relaxing their hot pursuit until she dives again into the vegetation, all unmindful of the approaching man.”
Du Bois speaks several times in his notes of the male bobolink following him about, perhaps through solicitude for his young or perhaps as an evidence of curiosity. “June 19: This morning when I went over into the Wilkins lot to photograph a yellow warbler’s nest, the male bobolink followed me, and ‘hung around’ to supervise the job, though this place is probably more than a hundred yards from his nest. Later he went away; but when I had made a second photograph (after first returning to the house on an errand), and was sitting on a box writing notes, here came the bobolink again. He was carrying something white in his bill (excrement no doubt) which he dropped as he alighted on a small sapling about eighteen feet from me.”
Evidently the male is a good “watchdog.” The female is also very alert for approaching danger while she is brooding, which makes it very difficult to flush her directly from the nest. While he was in his blind, close to the nest, and she was brooding the young, “she was very alert, continually looking about, and often stretching up her neck to see over the matted grass which surrounded the nest. In this upstretched position the streaking of her head matched wonderfully well the mixture of dead and green grass blades and stems through which, and against which, I saw her: so well in fact that she was rendered invisible except when she was moving, or when her eye was in plain sight. The male remained on the nearby asparagus almost all the time that his mate was on the nest.”
Forbush (1927) writes of the slaughter in the South:
Early in September 1912, I left Boston for Georgetown, South Carolina, and remained onti] after the fifteenth in the coastal region of the state. I found that the negroes used two methods of taking the birds: (1) hunting with a gun by daylight, (2) hunting at night with torches, when the men poled skiffs along the irrigation ditches and picked the dazzled birds off the reeds where they roost, or else threshed them off into the boat with branches cut for the purpose. This could be done on dark nights. The following quotation from my report of the trip will give an idea of the conditions there at that time regarding the Bobolink .
On my arrival at the rice fields, colored gunners were seen in all directions, and the popping of guns was continual. All the shooting appeared to be done by creeping up to birds when they were sitting on stubble or on heaped-up rice, selecting a time when a large number flocked together. One of the negroes said that he often frightened up the birds in the rice fields and shot into the flocks as they flew, but I saw nothing like this. One man with a full bag told me that he had 8 dozen birds at noon and that he killed 16 dozen the day before. Another stated that he had six dozen so far, and shot about 12 or 13 dozen daily on an average, but that formerly he used to get 14 or 15 dozen, or even more, when the birds were numerous. He said it was not unusual formerly to kill 20 to 30 dozen at night and sometimes even 40 dozen, but all the negroes that I talked with agreed that they were getting very few at night now. Some said that nights must he dark for successful hunting. They said they received 20 cents a dozen now for “shoot” birds and 25 to 30 cents for “ketch” birds. One gunner said that when he could not get 25 cents a dozen he would knock off.* * *
Mr. James H. Rice, then chief game warden of South Carolina, wrote to me that he had checked up the game shipped from Georgetown, South- Carolina, in one year. The result was 60,000 dozen of rice-birds and about 20,000 dozen of Carolina Rails and Virginia Rails, but at the time of writing (1912) the number shipped had fallen off greatly on account of the reduced number of the birds. He also stated that these birds were not shot to protect the rice, as they were not killed until they had grown fat on rice and until they would bring a good price in the market.
All this, happily, is now ancient history. The killing of songbirds and their sale in the market for food is prohibited by law, and the cultivation of rice in the Southeastern States in the main migration path of the bobolink has been greatly reduced. But the bobolink still has its natural enemies. Birds of prey still take their toll and prowling quadrupeds still rifle the nests of these ground-nesting birds. In low meadows the nests are sometimes flooded by heavy rains. The wily cowbird finds the well-hidden nests and deposits one or two of its unwelcome eggs; Friedmann (1929) gives only a few records, but so few bobolinks nests are ever found that the scarcity of records does not mean much .
Voice: Aretas A. Saunders contributes the following comprehensive study of this subject: “The song of the bobolink is a loud, clear series of short notes, no two consecutive notes on the same pitch. The song begins on a comparatively low pitch. The pitch rises higher and higher, and the notes follow each other more and more rapidly as the song progresses. It is most commonly sung in flight, the bird flying horizontally above the meadow as it sings. It is occasionally sung from a perch in a tree or on the top of a tall weed. The song from a perch is frequently curtailed and not full length, but the flight song is usually complete.
“The song is difficult to record and I have only 15 records of complete songs, and 5 other records of the beginnings of songs. From these records I find the number of notes in a song varies from 18 to 43, averaging 27. The length of the songs varies from 2% to 4% seconds. The range in pitch is from E flat ” to B “‘, or ten tones. Single songs range from 3Y~ to S tones, averaging about 6 tones.
“In 9 records the first note of the song is the lowest in pitch, and in 11 the first note is next to the lowest, the second note lowest. In 9 songs the last note is the highest in pitch, and in 6 songs the last note is next to the highest. Often, in the middle of the song a group of 2 to 4 notes is repeated two or three times in rapid succession.
“The beginning notes of the song are loud and rich in quality, but this richness seems to decrease as the song progresses, probably because as the notes become higher, the number of overtones that are low enough to affect the human ear decrease. To the bird it is quite possible that the quality is just as rich at the end as at the beginning.
“Consonant sounds, such as liquids like the letter L and explosives like K or T, are common throughout the song .
“The season of song lasts from the arrival of the birds in early May (in Connecticut) to the early days of July. They evidently sing on the spring migration. On May 5, 1944, the day I saw the first bobolinks of that year, 10 male birds flew north over a woodland, and several were in full song as they flew. Only in the last 5 years have I been where I could observe the cessation of song in this bird. ‘The date when the species as a whole had ceased singing averaged July 4, the earliest July 2, 1943, and the latest July 8, 1942. The date on which the last individual was heard to sing averaged July 9, the earliest July 2,1943, and the latest July 18, 1942.
“Bobolinks have number of short call notes. I have written some of these, in the field, as t8chick and tchow and pink. A three-syllable call is tcheteeta and, when repeated several times, it suggests the ffight notes of a goldfinch. The pink note is commonly heard in late summer and fall, and is used by birds flying southward in fall migration.”
Francis H. Allen writes to me: “In August a continuous warbling song may sometimes be heard from a flock feeding in grain fields. It seems to be formless, though at times it is suggestive of the regular song of the breeding season. On August 5,1917, I heard snatches of the full song from a bird in Vermont.”
Du Bois (MS.) writes of notes that he heard about the nest: “The female, agitated, utters her quick, quick, quick. The male, also much concerned, says chow, or chaup, in a pitch lower than the female’s quick. As I moved away from the nest, or stood still at a little distance, he exclaimed: Gee ,whi c-ic!, repeating it several times in his excitement (the gee higher than the whiz-ic). This was followed by his chow notes; and sometimes he flew near to me, alighting on a weed and adding a portion of excited song to his entreaties or complaints.”
Albert R. Brand (1938), in recording the vibration frequencies in the songs of passerine birds, gave as the approximate mean for the bobolink 3,000 and as the highest note 6,950 vibrations per second.
No description of the song of the bobolink is adequate to convey to the reader who has not heard it any appreciation of its beauty and vivacity. It is unique among bird songs, the despair of the recorder or the imitator; even the famed mockingbird cannot reproduce it. It is a bubbling delirium of ecstatic music that flows from the gifted throat of the bird like sparkling champagne.
F. Schuyler Mathews (1921) calls it “a mad, reckless song-fantasia, an outbreak of pent-up, irrepressible glee. The difficulty in either describing or putting upon paper such music is insurmountable. One can follow the singer through the first few whistled bars, and then, figuratively speaking, he lets down the bars and stampedes. I have never been able to ‘sort out’ the tones as they passed at this breakneck speed.”
The song has often been rendered in human words; these attempts give a good impression of the vivacity of the song, but no idea of its musical quality. Among the best of these are those oft-quoted words from the classic poem of William Cullen Bryant (Robert of Lincoln): “Bob-o’-link, bob-o’-link, Spink, spank, spink.” Henry D. Minot (1877) suggests the following:
“Tom Noodle, Tom Noodle, you owe me, you owe me, ten shillings and sixpence!” “I paid you, I paid you!” “You didn’t, you didn’t!” “You lie, you lie; you cheat!”
Field marks: The male bobolink, in spring plumage, is so conspicuously marked that it cannot be mistaken for anything else; there is no other bird in its summer haunts that is at all like it. It is the only one of our small land birds that reverses the almost universal law of concealing coloration by being wholly black below and mainly lightcolored above. The female is a shy, retiring bird, never much in evidence and generally out of sight in the long grass, where its yellowishbrown colors and its stripes help to conceal it among the grass stems. In the fall, all ages and sexes look much alike and can be recognized only by where they are and what they are doing.
Enemies: The bobolinks were largely driven out of New England by early mowing and raking of the hayfields. They were slaughtered in enormous numbers, for the market as “reed-birds,” on their fall migration. And thousands, probably millions, were killed as “rice birds” in the Southern States, where they did great damage in the ripening ricefield in the fall and some harm to the sprouting grain in the spring; many were also shot there for food .
Coues and Prentiss (1883) comment on the reed-bird market: “The familiar ‘clink’ of the Reed-bird begins to be heard over the tracts of wild oats along the river banks about the 20th of August, and from that time until October the restaurants are all supplied with ‘Reedbirds’: luscious morsels when genuine; but a great many Blackbirds and English Sparrows are devoured by accomplished gourmands, who nevertheless do not know the difFerence when the bill of fare is printed correctly and the charges are sufficiently exorbitant.”
Economic status: Much information on the economic status of the bobolink will be found in the foregoing paragraphs and need not be repeated here. While it is with us on its breeding grounds there is no doubt that it is a beneficial species. Most of the insects that it eats are of harmful species, or those of no value. The greater part of its vegetable food consists of weed seeds, or the seeds of useless plants; much of the very little grain it takes is waste. On its migration southward it feeds mainly on the seeds of wild plants, such as wild rice or wild oats, of no economic value. But, in the cultivated ricefields of the Southern States, it does, or has done, immense damage to the ripening grain in the fall and the sprouting grain in the spring. A few quotations from Beal (1900) will serve to iliustrate the damage formerly done in the ricefields. Mr. J. A. Hayes, Jr., of Savannah, Ga., reported that a field: which consisted of 125 acres of rice that matured when birds were most plentiful, and which, in spite of 18 bird-minders and 11 half kegs of gui~powder, yielded only 18 bushels per acre of inferior rice, although it had been estimated to yield 45 bushels.* * *
As a sample of actual loss, the following statement, furnished by Colonel Screven, gives his account with the bobolink at Savannah, Ga., for the year 1885:
Cost of ammunition $245.50
Wages of bird-minders $300.00
Rice destroyed, say 400 bushels $500.00
Total – $1,045. 50
Colonel Screven cultivated in that year 465 acres of tidal land, so that he has estimated a loss of less than 1 bushel of rice to the acre, while most of the rice growers estimate the loss at from 4 to 5 bushels.
Captain Hazzard states that in cultivating from 1,200 to 1,400 acres of rice, he has paid as much as $1,000 for bird-minding in one spring.
He wrote to Major Bendire (1895):
The Bobolinks make their appearance here during the latter part of April. *** Their next appearance is in a dark yellow plumage, as the Ricebird. There is no song at this time, but instead a chirp which means ruin to any rice found in the milk. My plantation record will show that for the past ten years, except when prevented by stormy south or southwest winds, the Ricebirds have come punc tually on the night of the 21st of August, apparently coming from seaward. All night their chirp can be heard passing over our summer homes on South Island, which is situated 6 miles to the east of our rice plantations, in full view of the ocean. Curious to say, we have never seen this ffight during the day. During the nights of August 21, 22, 23, and 24, millions of these birds make their appear ance and settle in the rice fields. From the 21st of August to the 25th of September our every effort is to save the crop. Men, boys, and women, with guns and ammunition, are posted on every 4 or 6 acres, and shoot daily an average of about 1 quart of powder to the gun. This firing commences at first dawn of day and is kept up until sunset. After all this expense and trouble our loss of rice per acre seldom falls under 8 bushels, and if from any cause there is a check to the crop during its growth which prevents the grain from being hard, but in milky con dition, the destruction of such fields is complete, it not paying to cut and bring the rice out of the field.* * *
Fall: As soon as the young are on the wing, in July, and the males have ceased to sing, the bobolinks, old and young, disappear from their nesting grounds and retire to more secluded haunts in the marshes and along the banks of sluggish streams, where they feed on the seeds of wild rice, wild oats, and various weeds, and become quite incon spicuous during the molting season. Migration from the northern part of the bird’s range begins in July, and by August it is in full swing all through the United States. The fall flight is mainly if not wholly by night; we often hear the distinctive clink note coming to us out of the darkness, as the scattered flocks pass over us. They stop to feed during the day, but probably do not move on every night, for they are known to roost in enormous numbers in the riceflelds.
Where food is plentiful and attractive, they probably stop over for a night or two and become excessively fat .
The fall migration of the bobolink, a long one and a remarkable one, m the main is a reversal of the spring route, but more concentrated.
From the far western extension of the breeding range the birds retrace the steps by which they extended their range westward, flying almost east to the Atlantic coast. Only a scattering few take the shorter route southward through the Western States and Central America, and a comparatively few migrate through the Mississippi Valley, mostly east of the river. As Dr. Wetmore (1926) puts it: “When southward flight begins, it comes with a rush that distributes the flocks far southward, so that on the east coast the birds arrive at suitable points in the region from Maryland south to Georgia and Florida almost simultaneously at some date between the middle of August and the first of September.” Meantime, the heavy flight from the eastern Provinces and States has poured down along the Atlantic coast, to join the western birds, where the main stream of ï migrants converges into a narrow funnel on the southeastern coast and overflows the whole peninsula of Florida. From there, three routes are available: the least popular of these, over which comparatively few birds travel, is the eastern route through Puerto Rico and the Antilles to British Guiana; the main trunkline, followed by a majority of the species, is an overseas route to Cuba and Jamaica and a long flight across the Caribbean Sea to South America; the third route, also well patronized, leads to Yucatan and thence along the east coast of Central America. After reaching South America, its route to its winter quarters is not as well known, but Chapman (1890) has this to say about it: “Salvin gives the bird from British Guiana and this, with the Cayenne record, seems to form the eastern limit of its range, there being, as far as I know, no records for eastern Brazil or the lower Amazon, while Darwin’s record, already referred to, of a specimen taken in October, 1835, on James Island in the Galapagoes, is the only one with which I am familiar from west of the Andes. Indeed our bird’s further wanderings seem now to be largely confined to the eastern slope of this range of mountains and the head waters of the Amazon, until it reaches what may be its true winter quarters in southern or southwestern Brazil.”
Skutch tells me that “the bobolink appears only exceptionally to migrate through Central America. On October 12, 1930, I saw a few birds which I took to be bobolinks in winter plumage among the swamp grasses around the Toloa Lagoon in northern Honduras.” But Todd and Carriker (1922) record it in Colombia as “a common visitor in September and October in the lowlands, from Santa Marta around to Fundaci6n and all along the shores of the Cienaga Grande.”
Examining the migration in more detail, a few published remarks are worth quoting. In Manitoba, according to Seton (1891), they gather into large flocks toward the end of July, and “then leave the prairie and attack the oat fields, doing, with the assistance of the Grackles and Redwing Blackbirds, an immense amount of mischief. After the oats are cut they resort to the marshes, feeding on wild rice, etc., until the cool nights inform them it is time to leave.”
Milton B. Trautman (1940) describes an unusually heavy migration in Ohio as follows:
While in a boat near Sellars Point, between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. on September 3, 1931, I heard flight notes of Bobolinks, and looking into the cloudless sky I saw a flock of approximately 50 flying in a southerly direction. The roughly rectangular flock was about one-fourth as deep as long and was advancing with the long side in front. At approximately 200-yard intervals behind this group came 31 other such flocks. No flock in this long irregular column contained less than 35 individuals nor more than 75, and the distance between each was remarkably constant. The birds appeared to be about 200 feet above the water, and could barely be seen with the naked eye. This migration was unusual because of ita large size and its regularity and uniformity.
Of the normal flight, he says: “In the southward migration between 100 and 500 individuals could usually be seen daily as they migrated overhead or fed in marshes and fallow fields. Upon a few occasions from 600 to 2,000 were observed in a day.”
After converging in Florida, the migrating hosts make two long, oversea flights, to Cuba and then to Jamaica. In Jamaica, the now overf at bobolink is called the “butter-bird” and is shot in large number for food. Gosse (1847) writes: “In ordinary seasons this well-known bird arrived in vast numbers from the United States, in the month of October, and scattering over the lowland plans, and slopes of the seaside hills, assembles in the guinea-grass fields, in flocks amounting to five hundred or more. The seed is then ripe, and the black throngs settle down upon it, so densely, that numbers may be killed at a random discharge. * * * Early in November they depart for the southern continent, but during their brief stay they are in great request for the table.”
A long flight from Jamaica across the Caribbean Sea lands the birds on the northern coast of Venezuela. Dr. Wetmore (1939) says: “Shortly after sunrise on October 16 as our ship entered the harbor at La Guaira a flock of about 75 small birds swept in along the shore in close formation and rose to pass over the docks. At a casual glance I took them for sandpipers, but as I obtained a better look I saw that they were bobolinks. I supposed that they had just arrived in migration and were making a landfall as there was no place here for them to feed. At Ocumare de la Costa before seven on the morning of October 28, one flew with a low call from a large sea-grape tree on the beach and went uncertainly toward the marsh beyond. It seemed to be newly arrived. The following day I flushed half a dozen from rushes growing in the lagoon.”
Winter: Although there are a few scattering late fall and early winter records for even the northern States, practically all the bobolinks have left the United States before November, and nearly all have reached their winter home in central South America. Dr. Wetmore (1926) says: “During winter it continues to frequent swamps and grass-grown marshes, and seems to have its centre of abundance in the Chaco, a vast area of poorly drained, swampy land, with broad grass-grown savannas, that extends west of the ParanA and Paraguay rivers, from northern Santa F6 in north central Argentina, north into Bolivia and Brazil.” Although the bobolink has had a safe haven here for many years, he remarks that the country is being settled, rice is being cultivated, and the birds are being killed for food by the foreign settlers. This prospect does not look favorable for the bobolink, which is also popular as a cage bird there.
Range: Canada to Argentina.
Breeding Range: The bobolink breeds from central-southern and southeastern British Columbia (Vernon, Waldo), southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan (Eastend, Quill Lake), southern Manitoba (Brandon, Winnipeg), central and southern Ontario (north sporadically to Chapleau and Bigwood), southwestern and central-southern Quebec (Blue Sea Lake, Newport), New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and northern Nova Scotia (Cape Breton Island); south through eastern Washington (rarely) and eastern Oregon (Blue Mountains) to northeastern California (Eagleville), northern Nevada (Ruby Valley), northern Utah (Springville), central and southeastern Colorado (Gunnison, Fort Lyon), central Nebraska (North Platte), northeastern Kansas (Manhattan), northern Missouri, central Illinois (Peoria, Urbana), south-central Indiana (Worthington, Columbus), southwestern and central-eastern Ohio (Hillsboro, Scio), northern West Virginia (south in the mountains to Greenbrier County), western Maryland (Red House), Pennsylvania, and central New Jersey. There are summer records from southwestern British Columbia (Chilliwack), central Alberta (Glenevis, Edmonton, Camrose), central Saskatchewan (Ladder Lake), western and northern Ontario (Emo, Missanabie, Strickland), the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec (Godbout), central Nevada (Toyabe Mountains), central-eastern Arizona (Showlow), central-northern New Mexico (between Park View and Chama), and north-central Kansas (Rooks County).
Winter Range: Winters in eastern Bolivia, central-southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina, migrating from North America mainly through the Mississippi Basin, the Atlantic coastal States, Florida, and across the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea; casually through eastern M6xico and Central America, south to Ecuador, the GalApagos Islands, and Peru; east to the Bahamas, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Lesser Antilles, Trinidad, French Guiana, and southeastern Brasil.
Casual records: Casual in western Arizona (Wikieup). Accidental in Greenland (Godthaab, Arsuck), Labrador (Gready Island), southeastern Quebec (Bradore Bay), and northern Ontario (Moose Factory).
Migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: Cuba: Havana, March 29. Bahamas: Cay Sal, March 28. Florida: St. Marks, April 9. Alabama: Dadeville, April 15. Georgia: Milledgeville, April 3; Athens, April 14. South Carolina: Charleston, April 7. North Carolina: Chapel Hill, April 13; Raleigh, April 19 (average of 24 years, May 2). Virginia: Naruna, April 18. West Virginia: White Sulphur Springs, April 27. District of Columbia: April 25 (average of 33 years, May 3). Maryland: Baltimore County, April 16. Delaware: Delaware City to Rehoboth, April 13. Pennsylvania: Berwyn, April 25; Philadelphia, average of 12 years, May 4. New Jersey: Cape May, April 21. New York: Rochester and Bronx County, April 19; Ithaca, May 4. Connecticut: Glastonbury, April 24. Rhode Island: Jerusalem, April 21. Massachusetts: Norwich, April 19; Bernardston and East Longmeadow, April 22. Vermont: St. Johnsbury, April 26; Wells River, average, May 12. New Hampshire: Charlestown, April 30. Maine: Bar Harbor, April 27; Saco, May 2. Quebec: Montreal, May 7; Kamouraska, May 8. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake and St. Andrews, May 12. Nova Scotia: Bridgetown, May 7. Prince Edward Island: North River, May 23. Louisiana: Grand Isle, April 1. Mississippi: Oak Vale, April 24. Arkansas: Rogers, April 15. Tennessee: Nashville, April 19 (average of 12 years, April 27). Kentucky: Bardstown, April 22. Missouri: Bolton and Corning, April 15. Illinois: Murphysboro, April 19; Freeport, April 20; Chicago region, April 25 (average, May 5). Indiana: Brookville and Gary, April 6. Ohio: Bowling Green and Oberlin, April 8 (average of 19 years at Oberlin, April 27). Michigan: Ann Arbor, April 19; Blaney Park, May 2. Ontario: Hamilton, April 15; Ottawa, May 3 (average of 31 years, May 16). Iowa: Hudson, April 25. Wisconsin: Madison and Oshkosh, April 25 (average of 15 years in Dane County, April 30). Minnesota: Minneapolis, April 23 (average of 7 years, May 7); Duluth, April 26 (average of 23 years for northern Minnesota, May 8). Texas: Houston, April 24. Oklahoma: Tulsa County, May 2. Kansas: Clearwater, April 17. Nebraska: Whitman, April 28. South Dakota: Faulkton, April 29; Sioux Falls, 4-year average, May 9. North Dakota: Marstonmoor, May 1; Cass County, average, May 12. Manitoba: Margaret, April 28; Treesbank, average of 22 years, May 15. Saskatchewan: McLean, May 7. Colorado: Weldona, April 28. Utah: San Juan River, May 19. Wyoming: Wheatland, May 1; Laramie, average of 9 years, May 20. Idaho: Meridian, May 18. Montana: Jackson, May 7. Oregon: Haney County, May 18. British Columbia: Vaseaux Lake, May 24.
Late dates of spring departure are: Brasil: Marabitanas, April 13. Venezuela: Aruba Island, April 25. Honduras: Northern Two Cays, May 18. Yucat~n: Celesta, May 12. Cayman Islands: Grand Cayman, May 1. Haiti: Tortue Island, May 16. Cuba: Remedios, June 1; Isle of Pines, May 29. Bahamas: New Providence, May 12. Florida: St. Augustine, June 7; Franklin County, June 5; Key West, May 30. Alabama: Birmingham, June 1. Georgia: Athens. June 10. South Carolina: South Carolina coast, June 5. North Carolina: Raleigh, May 27 (average of 5 years, May 23). Virginia: Rosslyn and Charlottesville, May 30. West Virginia: Cranberry Glades, May 27. District of Columbia: June 6 (average of 21 years, May 22). Maryland: Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties, June 12. Pennsylvania: Butler, Limerick, and Jeffersonville, June 10. New Jersey: South Orange, June 9. New York: Bronx County, June 9. Louisiana: Grand Isle, June 16; New Orleans, May 29. Mississippi: Vicksburg, May 19. Arkansas: Monticello, May 28. Tennessee: Clarksville, June 9. Kentucky: Bardstown, May 27. Missouri: Corning, June 2. Illinois: Chicago, May 31 (average of 16 years, May 20). Texas: Dallas County, June 8; Cove, May 26. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, May 29. Nebraska: Omaha and Lincoln, May 24.
Early dates of fall arrival are: Kansas: Cimarron, August 15. Oklahoma: Payne County, August 2. Texas: Edinburg, August 25. illinois: Chicago, August 10 (average of 6 years, August 14). Kentucky: Eubank, August 15. Tennessee: Elizabethton, August 17. Louisiana: Kaplan, July 13; Abbeville, August 4. Rhode Island-South Auburn, July 23. Connecticut: Hartford, August 2. New Jersey: Camden, July 8. Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, July 18. Delaware: Odessa, July 19. Maryland: Laurel, July 18. District of Columbia, July 26 (average of 23 years, August 17). Virginia-Warwick, July 24. North Carolina: Raleigh, August 15 (average of 11 years, August 29). South Carolina: Frogmore, July 13. Georgia-Savannah, July 27. Florida: Pensacola, July 10; Key West, August 4. Bahamas: Cay Lobos Light, September 1. Cuba: Trinidad, September 1. Jamaica-September 25. Dominican Republic-San Juan, September21. Panam~i: Obaldia, September 30. Colombia-Santa Marta region, September 11. Venezuela: Merida, September 20. Bolivia: Alto Paraguay, October 15. Paraguay: Trinidad, November 9. Argentina: Ocampo, November.
Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, August 27. Oregon: Harney County, September 18. Nevada: Montello, September 20. Montana: Fortine, September 28. Wyoming: Fort Laramie, October 2. Colorado: Boulder County, September 9. Saskatchewan: Indian Head, September 20. Manitoba: Treesbank, September 22 (average of 11 years, September 14). North Dakota: Cass County, September 22 (average, September 12). South Dakota: Sioux Falls, October 9 (average of 5 years, September 12). Kansas: Osawatomie, October 13. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, November 27. Texas: Comanche County, November 28. Minnesota: St. Paul, October 15; Bradford, October 12. Wisconsin-Burlington and Prairie du Sac, October 16. Iowa: National, October 18. Ontario: Point Pelee, October 3; Ottawa, September 29 (average of 11 years, September 10). Michigan: Yicksburg, September 25. Ohio: Buckeye Lake, October 27 (median, October 12). Indiana: Bicknell, October 17. illinois: Chicago region, October 9 (average, September 10). Missouri: Bolivar, October 1. Kentucky: Bardstown, September 28. Tennessee: Knoxville, October 7. Mississippi: Bioxi, October 8. Louisiana: Diamond, September 27. Nova Scotia: Yarmouth, September 5. New Brunswick: Scotch Lake, September 25. Quebec: Kamouraska, September 25; Montreal, September 16. Maine: Jefferson, October 10. New Hampshire: Tilton, September 19. Vermont: Rutland, October 1. Massachusetts: Northampton, November 8; Scituate, October 23. Rhode Island: Quonochontaug, October 9. Connecticut: Portland, October 15. New York: Flushing, November 2; Guilderland Center, October 16. New Jersey: Newark, October 22. Pennsylvania: Renovo, November 1; Shermansville, October 10. Maryland: Patapsco River, November 8. District of Columbia: October 21 (average of 14 years, September 29). West Virginia: Morgantown, October 9. Virginia: Naruna, October 5. North Carolina: Dare County, October 24; Raleigh, October 7 (average of 7 years, September 29). South Carolina: Dillon County, December 6; Mount Pleasant, November 26. Georgia: Savannah, October 21. Alabama: Dauphin Island, September 21. Florida: Alligator Reef Light, November 28; Defuniak Springs, November 15. Bahamas: Watlings Island, October 12. Cuba: havana, October 5. Jamaica: Spanish To~vn, October 10. Dominican Republic: San Juan, September 28. Barbados: October 26. Nicaragua: Rio Escondido, October 10. Panam~: Perm~, October 18. Colombia: Santa Marta region, October 14. Venezuela: Ocumare de la Costa, October 28.
Egg dates: Connecticut: 12 records, May 27 to June 4. Illinois: 25 records, May25 to July 11; 15 records, May25 to May 31.
Massachusetts: 25 records, June 1 to June 25; 20 records, June 1 to June 9.
Minnesota: 7 records, June 2 to June 15 .
New York: 24 records, May 18 to June 11; 12 records, May29 to June 4 (Harris).