This Week’s Endangered Species in Focus: The Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

A medium-sized songbird found in North American tallgrass prairie, other open meadows and hay fields, male Bobolinks are black with a white back and yellow collar during their summer breeding season. (Some have described their striking look as wearing a tuxedo backwards.)

Bobolink molt twice a year, completely changing all their feathers on both the breeding and wintering grounds. When the male grows new feathers on the wintering grounds they all have yellowish tips, so he still looks like a non-breeding bird. Eventually the pale tips wear off to reveal his striking black-and-white breeding colors.

By late summer, male bobolink will lose much of this breeding plumage and more closely resemble the female’s tan colour with black stripes.

Bobolinks are related to blackbirds, which are often polygynous, meaning that males may have several mates per breeding season. Bobolinks are polygynous, too—but they’re also often polyandrous: each clutch of eggs laid by a single female may have multiple fathers.

Because Bobolinks spend much of their time out of sight on the ground feeding on insects and seeds, they may seem to appear out of nowhere, spotted flying in the sky or over the tops of vegetation singing a bubbling musical song.

The Bobolink breeds across North America. Here, in Ontario, it is widely distributed throughout most of the province south of the boreal forest, although it may be found in the north where suitable habitat exists. The Bobolink is considered a “wide ranging species” and in fact, the Bobolink is one of the world’s most impressive songbird migrants, travelling approximately 20,000 km to and from South America. Throughout its lifetime, it may travel the equivalent of 4 or 5 times around the circumference of the earth.

Bobolinks often build their small nests on the ground in dense grasses. Both parents usually tend to their young, sometimes with a third Bobolink helping. The species name of the Bobolink, oryzivorus means “rice eating” and refers to this bird’s appetite for rice and other grains, especially during migration and in winter.

A map outlining occurrences of the Bobolink in Ontario can be found at:

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