Flocking up

Is it time for fall already?  These birds seem to think so.

Male Dickcissel in breeding plumage look like a Meadowlark with a bright yellow V on the breast and black bib.  Juvenile birds and females show some of the yellow coloration on both the breast and head.

Bobolinks are actually members of the Blackbird family, although they look like stocky finches. These may be female bobolinks, and/or young birds just fledged from their prairie nest.

Female and juvenile bobolinks have yellow feathers on their breast and face; the male, however, looks like an entirely different species when he is dressed in his breeding plumage.  Bobolinks are one of the few species that molts all of its feathers twice a year, and his distinctive set of black, white, and yellow feathers will soon be replaced with drab brown and yellow ones before he migrates to southern South America for the winter.  Then he will re-decorate himself again with another new set of breeding plumage feathers before he undertakes the northward migration next spring.  A lot of energy just to make himself attractive to the ladies.

Male Bobolink in breeding plumage (by Andrea Westmoreland via Wikimedia Commons)

Male Bobolink in breeding plumage (by Andrea Westmoreland via Wikimedia Commons).

Bobolinks form large migratory flocks, feeding voraciously during the day on seeds of crops and prairie grasses to fuel their nocturnal flights.  Their preferred forage on the large grain fields in South America, earned them the name “rice-birds”.

... to this, in just a few minutes.

But first, they have to lay on a layer of fat and build up those wing muscles before the late summer take-off.  Their migratory round-trip from the upper midwestern prairie and wheat fields to agricultural areas in Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia is about 12,000 miles.

Bon voyage, rice-eaters.

10 thoughts on “Flocking up

  1. I don’t know much about birds (like I can tell the difference between my chickens and magpies), but it is simply fun to say bobolinks. The fact they molt twice a year to bland in is cool, and makes me think of some mammals, like rabbits that live in snowy areas.

    • If you like the word bobolink, you would love to visit the Galapagos Islands where there are three species of “boobies”, and it is perfectly acceptable to put the word booby in every sentence!

  2. I too like the fun sound of the word “bobolink,” which rates right up there with two plants that I have read about recently on blogs, “wapato” and “pipsissewa.” It’s fascinating to think about the preparations necessary for migration.

    • It must have been fun being one of the early zoologists or botanists and thinking up names of newly discovered species. But how did they come up with names like “booby” for an elegant looking seabird, or Stinking Willy for the plant species known as Trillium erectum?

  3. This past April the bird banders at Ft Morgan, on the Gulf Coast at the mouth of Mobile Bay, caught a Boblink in their net. According to their records this was their first since 1995. I was fortunate enough to have been there when the Bobolink was caught. A real beauty or I should say handsome bird.

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