The male Bobolink is one of the most distinctive of grassland birds both because of its cheerful, bubbly song, and because its mostly black breeding plumage is unique. The female, on the other hand, resembles a large sparrow, as does the non-breeding male. Bobolinks are fairly common in Tennessee during spring migration from late April to mid-May, but are uncommon to rare in fall. The breeding range extends across southern Canada and the northern United States, and their incredibly long migration takes them to southern Brazil and Argentina for the winter. As with most grassland birds, Bobolinks are declining rangewide as a result of loss of grassland habitat.
Description: Breeding males (March-August) are mostly black with white wing patches, a white rump, and a buffy-yellow patch on the back of the head. The female is overall light brown with the tail and wings darker, and black streaks on the back, head, and sides. During the non-breeding season, males resemble the female but are overall buffy-yellow.
Weight: 0.1 lbs
Voice: The song, often given in flight, is a long series of bubbly notes cascading up and down in pitch and loudness.
Habitat: In Tennessee, Bobolinks may be found in grassy and overgrown fields.
Diet: Bobolinks mainly eat seeds and insects found on or near the ground.
Nesting and reproduction: The only documented nesting of a Bobolink in Tennessee was in 1962 in Shady Valley, Johnson County. Adult birds are occasionally found in summer in the northeast corner of Tennessee, but are very rare.
Status in Tennessee: Bobolinks are a fairly common migrant in Tennessee in spring (mid-April through mid-May), and uncommon to rare in fall (late August through early October). There is one record of a Bobolink nesting in Tennessee from 1962 in Shady Valley, Johnson County.
Dynamic map of Bobolink eBird observations in Tennessee
- Bobolinks have one of the longest migrations of any songbird, traveling approximately 12,500 miles round trip from the breeding grounds in central North America to the wintering grounds in southern South America and back each year. A banded 9-year-old female, presumably making this trip annually, would have traveled the distance equal to 4.5 times around the Earth at the equator.
- Bobolinks are one of the few birds that do a complete molt twice a year, once on the breeding grounds before migration and once on the winter grounds before they begin their northward journey.
- In preparation of long distance migrations when they need excessive amounts of fat stores, Bobolinks have been observed foraging in rice fields at night on bright nights.
Obsolete English Names: reedbird
Best places to see in Tennessee: Boblinks are most likely to be seen during spring migration from mid-April through mid-May in open grassland and pastures. One regular location is the grasslands at the Ensley Bottoms Complex (The Pits) in Memphis, also the native grass fields at Bark Camp Barrens WMA, Coffee County.
For more information:
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Martin, S. G. and T. A. Gavin. 1995. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), The Birds of North America, No. 176 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.