Something Wild
9:00 am
Fri July 11, 2014

A Salute To Bobolinks & Henry David Thoreau

A tumbling jumble of bird song from across the field announces the presence of bobolinks. In his journals, Henry David Thoreau quoted a Cape Cod child who asked:

"What makes he sing so sweet, Mother? Do he eat flowers?"

As a salute to Thoreau, whose birthday is July 12th, keep an eye out for male bobolinks, rising up like small helicopters, hovering, wings a blur of motion. The first male's bubbling song is soon joined by others. Bobolinks are a communal grassland species and one field can play host to many. 

Black below, and mostly white above, the males appear to be wearing their tuxedos backwards. A yellow patch on their nape can look like just another dandelion in the field. With feather molt occurring in August, males leave their tuxedos behind, soon resembling the streaky, sparrow-like coloring of females and young--camouflage designed to not attract attention.

Grassland birds face a lot of challenges. Although July's full moon is known as the Full Hay Moon, fields managed for hay these days, are often cut in late May. Mowing before July spells doom for bobolink nests. Bobolinks also face obstacles on their winter grounds in Bolivia. Pesticide use in rice fields where they forage and being shot as an alleged crop pest contribute to their demise. Their numbers are falling in New Hampshire and elsewhere, but there are regions in the the Midwest and Canada where they're hanging on, and in some cases, increasing. 

So here's a double salute, to Thoreau whose nature observations inspire so many, and to bobolinks who survive against tough odds.

A portrait of Henry David Thoreau.
Credit Benjamin D. Maxham / National Portrait Gallery

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