June 21, 2019*
by Andy Rzeznikiewicz, manager of Connecticut Audubon’s northeastern Connecticut sanctuaries
What it looks like: The males are black with white on the back and yellow on the back of the head. The females are buffy-colored with streaks on the back, crown and flanks. The female looks like a large sparrow.
How to find it: Bobolinks are found in large grasslands (hay, pasture, airports), of at least 10 acres in size usually. The birds arrive in Connecticut around the first week of May. Fields with hills tend to have more birds; they usually nest on the top of the hill or the side in the thick grasses.
They are easy to locate, since the males will sit on the top of a clump of grass or nearby tree or shrub and sing defending their territory from other males; the males also sing while flying low over the grassland. The songs are distinctive. The Cornell Ornithology lab’s website says: “Each male has 2 song types, each composed of 25-50 notes in a fixed sequence, lasting about 3.5 seconds.” Listen here.
Early in the nesting season it is common to see several males together chasing each other to establish nesting territory. The males will mate with more than one female in a season. In late summer, bobolinks form flocks of up to 100 birds, usually found in weedy uncut fields.
Where to find it: Many large fields in the state have Bobolink using them, but only the few that get cut late, after July 15th, actually have any success in raising young.
Topsmead State Forest in Litchfield is managed for grassland birds and is an excellent place to find Bobolinks. The Bafflin Sanctuary at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Center at Pomfret is another good spot, particularly the field where Day Road and Wrights Crossing Road intersect, and the field along Bosworth Road. Also try the Durham Fairgrounds in Durham.
Conservation status: Still considered a common bird, but declining rapidly. Most of the nesting attempts are destroyed by early hay harvesting. July 15th is the magic date to ensure most birds have finished nesting. Farmers are cutting earlier and earlier and the equipment they now use enables them to harvest all their fields quicker, so many Bobolinks and other grassland birds lose their nest year after year.
The Bobolink also migrates up to 12,000 miles to Argentina for the winter. While there they are killed by farmers who don’t want them eating their crops. It is remarkable that we actually still have any left. If you want to manage your lands for Bobolinks and want more information call our Center at Pomfret (860 928 4948) and we can help you out.
Photo of male Bobolink by Frank Gallo; photo of female by New Jersey Birds, via Carolinabirds.org
*Revised from a previous Bird Finder