What Black and White Ontario Bird Is Perched Beside a Field with a Tan Helmet Slipping Off Its Head?

Some birds look slightly, well, silly. This is one of those birds: he looks a bit like a Red Winged Blackbird that got into a can of white paint and then tried on his Dad’s yellow-blond toupee which promptly slid backwards halfway off his head and onto his neck.

Photo of Bobolink Male Back Head Claws on NaturalCrooksDotCom
Look at the feet!

You have to wonder if female Bobolinks find this impressive or if they just roll their eyes and accept it as a “boys will be boys” thing. Either way it’s a good thing that female Bobolinks still match up because as a whole the Bobolink population has, unfortunately, been dropping.

Where Do Bobolinks Hang Out?

When I was younger and fitter, I would sometimes bike out to Lemoine’s Point near Kingston, Ontario. (It was in the Township then.) Near the one entrance, I would often see Bobolinks on the fence posts and shrubs near a big unmowed hayfield at the end of Front Road. (Looking back in time, I guess it may have been a field adjacent to the airport, not a farm field.)

Photo of Bobolink Male Singing Square Mouth on NaturalCrooksDotCom
This male is singing and the shape of his mouth interested me.

I am pleased to see, by checking eBird.org that there are still Bobolinks out that way.

So I read up a bit on Bobolinks at AllAboutBirds and confirmed that they like tall grassy fields to feed in. They also nest on the ground among the unmowed vegetation.

Photo of Bobolink Male All Black Front on NaturalCrooksDotCom
From the front, the male Bobolink can look entirely black.

Unmowed fields are not that common in the major metropolis I live in, so I recently went out to Bronte Creek Provincial Park to look for these black and white birds. There they have a breeding population who are enjoying a meadow full of grasses and clovers.

Do Bobolinks Pair Up Like Cardinals or Set Up a Territory Like Red Winged Blackbirds?

The male Bobolinks I watched were calling steadily on this sunny afternoon in mid-June. They often perched briefly on shrubs and deadfalls at the edge of the field.

You could see and hear the fierce competition among the males: they would chase each other off of perches and fly after each other around the field.

Photo of Bobolinks Male Chase on NaturalCrooksDotCom
I should have used a faster shutterspeed: they really fly!

When one female flew briefly up from the cover of the grasses, she was quickly chased by two eager males.

It seemed like the males had preferred territories as one, for example, would return to sing at the same stunted tree at the field edge every five to ten minutes. I must admit I can’t be sure if it was the same male or not, though.

Photo of Bobolink Male Singing on NaturalCrooksDotCom
This male was singing regularly from a grape-vine covered stunted spruce tree.

According to the Cornell website, although males do help feed chicks, Bobolinks do not form pairs. The eggs in one clutch will have more than one father, and eggs in different nests will have the same father. Given the dropping populations in some areas, this may be a good thing, though, as it could increase the genetic diversity of the next generation.

Photo of Bobolink Male in Hayfield on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The Bobolink males would also drop down into the field to feed between bouts of singing and chasing. They are surprisingly difficult to see in the grasses despite their vivid colouring. They eat insects and spiders as well as seeds.

I enjoyed watching these oddly marked male birds and I wish I had a better look at the females. I guess I’ll have to go back and see if they become more visible once the youngsters are starting to fly.

Photo of Bobolink Male Tan Cap Black Front on NaturalCrooksDotCom
I still think the sliding off cap looks silly….

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