Bobolink Habitat photo Several Bobolinks singing from a cluster of shrubs at the edge of a meadow. 5:30am, 12 May 2016. Finger Lakes National Forest near Trumansburg, New York. © Lang Elliott. This is a 3D binaural recording; please wear headphones!

On this beautiful spring day, I have just one thing to say … I am so incredibly fortunate to live in an area where I can enjoy the bubbling “song-fantasias” of Bobolinks, ecstatic voices from another world! They seem a gift from heaven, a unique jewel among our native birds.

Bobolink male and femaleRising early, I met up with friends Beth Bannister and Ruth Yarrow. We headed to a large meadow in nearby Finger Lakes National Forest, in hopes of recording a Bobolink or two (they have just returned to upstate New York, having flown all the way from central South America!). We were not disappointed! Walking into the meadow at first light, we heard several raising a ruckus in a patch of shrubs and quickly headed in their direction.

Amazingly, we found four males perched near one another, spouting songs like a fountain spraying water upwards and outwards, as if partaking in a festive reunion (possibly they’re still reveling in the comradery of migration, though probably has something to do with territoriality and aggression). Whatever the cause and purpose, we relished this remarkable vocal performance and I got one of my most exciting Bobolink recordings ever.

Although I’ve been busy with office chores most of today, I can imagine them in the sunny meadow, chasing one another about while singing in flight, as each male attempts to consolidate his territory in anticipation of the arrival of females. Arthur Allen, one of the founders of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, penned this fun description of their antics and songs:

And now we come to an open field with lush timothy and clover well-started, though the daisies and hawkweed are not yet in full bloom. Floating over the green meadow, chasing one another about, are several blackbirds with conspicuous white on their upper-parts. They are Bobolinks, and their bubbling, banjo-like songs greet our ears with the exuberance of college boys. One note follows the other with increasing rapidity, until each bird sounds like a whole orchestra, and repeats its name under a jumble of musical notes.

F. Schuyler Mathews described the Bobolinks song as “a mad, wreckless song-fantasia … an outbreak of pentup, irrepressable glee.” Contemporary birders often compare the song to the sounds made by R2D2 in Star Wars. Someone told me that the Bobolink’s song provided the inspiration for the robot’s vocabulary, but I’m not sure if that is actually true. Do any of you know for sure?

bobolink silhouette by Beth Bannister

Bobolink populations in the Northeast have decreased over the last fifty years, probably due to loss of suitable breeding habitat and/or premature cutting of hay. The species used to be hunted large scale in the southern states, when flocks converged upon rice fields during migration. There are currently a number of threats on their wintering grounds in the pampas of Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia … including habitat destruction, hunting, the pet trade, use of pesticides, and the like. NOTE: If you’re interested in helping Bobolinks in the Northeast, consider supporting the Bobolink Project.

So far, I have not noticed any population decreases here in upstate New York, but it would be a sad day indeed to witness the disappearance of their songs from the lush meadows found only a short distance from where I live. Every year, with great joy, I relish the first bubbles that erupt from the Bobolink’s throat. Pop the cork and drink with gusto, there is still much to celebrate.

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