Dolichonyx oryzivorus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published August 13, 2015
  • Rosalind Renfrew, Allan M. Strong, Noah G. Perlut, Stephen G. Martin, and Thomas A. Gavin

Free Introduction Article Access

The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining account articles and multimedia content.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Figure 1. Breeding range of the Bobolink.

See text for details. This species winters in South America (see Fig. 2).

Adult male Bobolink, OH, 14 May.

Male in Alternate plumage is unique among North American songbirds in being entirely black below and lighter above: the front of head, tail, and wings are black, and the scapulars, lower back, rump, and uppertail-coverts are white to pale gray, with a distinctive yellow nape and nuchal collar. The dark feathers may initially be obscured by maize yellow feather fringes when fresh. This fringing wearing off during spring migration.Image via Birdshare: Bryan Hix.

Figure 2. Principal overwintering range of the Bobolink.

The area of highest overwintering densities is east of the Andes in the pampas of southwestern Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Adult female Bobolink, Chester Co., PA, 16 June.

Female underparts yellowish buff, streaked dusky or black on sides, flanks, and undertail-coverts; upperparts buffy olive, streaked with black. The broad, buffy median stripe on top of head, bordered on each side with a pronounced brownish or blackish stripe, is distinctive.Image via Birdshare: Kelly Colgan Azar.

This species account is dedicated in honor of Wendy Paulson, member of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Administrative Board.

The Bobolink is one of the most striking passerines in North America. Males—conspicuous visually, behaviorally, and vocally during the breeding season—look like they are wearing a tuxedo backward, leading some observers to refer to this species as the “skunk blackbird.” Male Bobolinks sing a long, bubbly song, often while flying low over their territories in a characteristic, helicopter-like flight. This sight was certainly the inspiration for the insightful, amusing, and onomatopoeic poem “Robert of Lincoln,” written by the nineteenth-century American poet William Cullen Bryant.The Bobolink is polygynous and was one of the first species in which multiple paternity (females laying a clutch of eggs sired by more than one male) was documented. In addition, this North American breeder is an extraordinary migrant, traveling to south of the equator each autumn and making a round-trip of approximately 20,000 kilometers. One male known to be at least 10 years old presumably made this trip annually, a total distance equal to traveling 5 times around the earth at the equator! Results from birds tagged with geolocators show that Bobolinks strain our traditional notion of a stationary non-breeding range, as birds make an extended stopover in Venezuela before proceeding south to Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Bobolinks have been shot as agricultural pests in the southern United States, trapped and sold as pets in Argentina, and collected as food in Jamaica. The species is not as abundant as it was several decades ago, primarily because of changing land-use practices, especially the decline of meadows and hay fields. The Bobolink's tenacity and adaptability, however, should continue to serve it well.

Recommended Citation

Renfrew, R., A. M. Strong, N. G. Perlut, S. G. Martin, and T. A. Gavin (2015). Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.