Male
  • Male
  • Male
  • Female. Note: large pinkish bill.
  • Male
  • Male

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Bobolink

Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Passeriformes
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
Icteridae
This New World family of medium and large songbirds is very familiar, as most species are common inhabitants in human-altered settings. Many are partly to entirely black, often with iridescence or bright markings of some sort. Most blackbird species form flocks at certain times of the year, and many form multispecies flocks. Blackbirds live in open habitats and eat seeds, grain, and insects. They often forage in agricultural areas, where they can be considered pests. These birds generally forage on the ground where they are well adapted for a behavior called gaping. They insert their long, slender bills into the ground, and then open their bills to get at underground insects. Blackbirds also use this technique to get into fruits and some insects, and to reach insects that are cocooned inside wrapped leaves. Most build open-cup nests in trees, shrubs, or on the ground. Many members of this family are polygynous. Females generally build the nests and incubate the eggs, and males help feed the young.
Fairly common summer resident east.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

Male Bobolinks in breeding plumage are visually striking birds. Their plumage has been described as looking like a skunk, a backward tuxedo, or a broken egg running down their back. They are solid black below, with black faces, light yellow napes, black and white streaked backs, and white rumps. Females are buff-brown with streaked backs and plain buff underparts. They have plain faces, dark eye-lines, and dark and light head stripes. They could easily be misidentified as a large sparrow, especially because they have thick, short bills and are smaller than most blackbirds. Males in non-breeding plumage look like females.

Habitat

Bobolinks are generally found in tall-grass prairies, hay fields, and similar open areas. They do not occur in short-grass prairies. In Washington, which has little natural tall-grass prairie habitat, Bobolinks are associated with irrigated hay fields and other agricultural crops that are similar in structure to tall-grass prairies. During migration they can be found in freshwater marshes, especially rice fields, and at coastal areas.

Behavior

Bobolinks are social throughout most of the year. They sit on high perches in meadows, but forage while walking on the ground. They are very apparent in flight with their dark underparts, and they perform conspicuous flight songs and displays. Their song is a bubbly, metallic series of beeps and twitters.

Diet

Bobolinks are primarily seedeaters. They feed heavily on rice, weed seeds, and other grains during the fall and winter. During the breeding season they also eat insects and other invertebrates.

Nesting

Bobolinks are strongly polygamous and nest in small, loose colonies. The female builds a loosely woven nest on the ground in dense, high grass. She plucks away vegetation to create an open spot on the ground and makes a slight depression for the nest. The nest has an exterior wall of leaves and grass with a lining of finer grasses. The female incubates 3 to 7 eggs for 11 to 13 days. The male helps brood and feed the young of his primary mate. Secondary females typically brood and feed their young alone, but sometimes have help from the males. The young leave the nest 10 to 11 days after hatching and can make sustained flights by 16 days.

Migration Status

Long-distance migrants, Bobolinks winter in southern South America. They migrate in flocks that appear to be sexually segregated in the spring but mixed in the fall. Magnetic cues, which help many bird species migrate, appear to be particularly important to Bobolinks.

Conservation Status

Bobolinks are common throughout most of their range and were formerly considered to be major predators of rice in the southeastern United States. There is less rice grown in the United States now, and the population of Bobolinks has declined in the past few decades due to loss of habitat, so their predation of rice is less of an issue. Partners in Flight lists them as a species-at-risk. Bobolinks are historically more eastern birds and have expanded their range into Washington because of the habitat created by agriculture. In fact, the Toppenish colony near Yakima is probably the westernmost Bobolink colony in North America. Mowing and livestock grazing are both threats to breeding Bobolinks. Preservation of some uncultivated, wet meadow adjacent to hay fields, along with delayed mowing by farmers until the young have fledged, may help maintain Bobolink populations.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Bobolinks are rare visitors to western Washington during migration, but are primarily birds of eastern Washington. They are present from late May to mid-August and are fairly common in the northeastern corner of the state, primarily in Okanogan (east of the Okanogan River), Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille Counties. A reliable place to find Bobolinks has been Aeneas Valley in Okanogan County. They also breed at Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge near Yakima, which is the only known breeding colony outside of these counties.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
EcoregionJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Oceanic
Pacific Northwest Coast
Puget Trough
North Cascades
West Cascades
East Cascades
Okanogan UUUR
Canadian Rockies FFUU
Blue Mountains
Columbia Plateau RRR

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Monitored

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern