Northland Nature: Bobolinks sing in the grassy fields

Though early May was chilly with some snow, the second half of the month rebounded with temperatures far above normal: 70 degrees or more nearly every day.

The Bobolink
Unlike other birds, the bobolink has a light back and darker underside. Submitted photo

Though early May was chilly with some snow, the second half of the month rebounded with temperatures far above normal: 70 degrees or more nearly every day.

The month ended about two degrees higher than the usual.

Indeed, March, April and May gave us the warmest spring ever recorded in Duluth. And, as we exited the greening month, we stepped from an earlier-than-normal spring into an earlier-than-normal summer.

Many signs of nature tell us of the end of spring and the start of summer. But I always note the change as when the blooming of the wild flowers switches from the prolific blossoms in the woods to those growing in open spaces.

When we see more colorful plants along the roadsides, fields and swamps, summer is beginning. Now as we begin this growing month of June, the woods are shady and, along our roads, we pass patches of daisies, clovers, hawkweeds, vetches and lupine.


All this color is where only grasses prevailed just a couple of weeks ago.

Recently, as I stopped to admire this new field flora, I heard songs, too. Not only has this space been taken over by wild flowers, the birds have moved in too.

The woods are so full of tunes from warblers, vireos, thrushes and flycatchers now, it is easy to overlook that others live in fields.

Here I heard Savannah and clay-colored sparrows, sedge wrens, meadowlarks and their cousin: the bobolink.

This small member of the blackbird family sings its long, loud song either on wing or perched. (It is this lengthy melody that is the source of this bird's name. Early naturalists thought the note sounded like "bobolincon" or "robertolincon".)

With some searching of the open lands, these singing birds can be located and observed.

Their bodies are about 7 inches long and uniquely patterned.

While the underside is entirely black, the topside is a mixture of white and yellow. (Bobolinks have been called the "upside down" bird since most avians have a darker shade on the back, lighter underneath -- the opposite of the bobolink.)


Females are brown with streaks. Being a ground nesters, she is harder to see when on the eggs than his obvious plumage.

Though common in the Northland's tall grass fields, they are still always a delight to see. Each May I'm thrilled to note their arrival (usually seen after being heard).

Not only are they just a great neighbor to have, their return is a tribute to a successful long distance flight. Instead of wintering in the southern states or Mexico -- or even Central America -- these long-range flyers spend our cold months in the summer of South America.

Here in Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, they remain when not with us. But, come May, their long songs come back to our fields.

Among all the other hectic happenings in the month of June, the bobolink pair will find a hidden site for a nest and raise a brood.

During this time, the male continues to sing the noticeable song. Both parents feed the young and they grow quickly.

During July, when the family has fledged and proclamations of ownership are no longer needed, the fields fall silent.

Families flock up and feed to begin the long flight of fall.


Bobolinks can be seen here in autumn, but they won't last long.

But, for now, during these warm colorful days of June, they fill the fields with an energetic melodious sound.

Retired teacher Larry Weber can be reached c/o .

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