When Bobolinks are mentioned in mixed audiences, you invariably get muffled laughter, quizzical looks and finally the question, “A bobo-what?”

Bobolinks are small songbirds in the same family as grackles and meadowlarks.  The breeding male is most recognizable by its black body and white back with a buff patch at the nape.

They like tall grasslands, uncut pastures and overgrown fields making Bronte Creek Provincial Park perfect bobolink habitat, since it’s on 684 ha of protected area, most of which is farm fields.

Farm fencing and cedars in foreground of a shot of a farm field with round hay bales on a bright summer day

Bobolinks spend much of their time out of sight, on the ground feeding on insects and seeds. They seem to appear out of nowhere and can be spotted flying in the sky or over the tops of vegetation singing a bubbling, musical song.

A threatened species

Unfortunately, Bobolinks were added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List in September, 2010; their current status is threatened.

Yellowish brown song bird perched on a wild grape plant
Female Bobolink

Being threatened means that, while the Bobolink is not endangered, they are likely to become so if steps are not taken to mitigate the harmful factors affecting their population.

Meadow-scape with some coniferous and deciduous trees as well as young milk weed, young sumac, goldenrod and other grasses.

From 1997-2007, it is estimated that the Bobolink population in Ontario declined by 33%. If the population continues to decline at that rate, the Bobolink will be extinct in just over 90 years.

Causes of the Bobolink’s decline

As a wide ranging species that migrates in and out of Ontario, there are likely several causes for this decline. Some of the threats to Bobolink in this province include:

  • mowing of hay during the breeding period. This could destroy or disturb nesting adults, young birds, eggs and nests
  • cutting hay in early to mid-July. This coincides with the time that young birds are in the nest and are not able to fly
  • nest abandonment by adult Bobolinks
  • enhanced predation

Green field with blue sky, with tree branches coming into the shot and moon faintly visible.

The primary threat to Bobolink populations is thought to be the trend towards earlier cutting of hay fields. Climate change and increasing temperatures have impacted this and this cut tends to occur about two weeks earlier today than in the 1950s.

Black song bird with white back of head, perched on a Queen Anne's Lace stem. Clover and daisy's bloom out of focus in the background.
Male Bobolink

So what are we doing?

Ontario Parks actions:

  • increasing public awareness of the species and habitat
  • improving nesting productivity and habitat quality
  • maintaining existing habitat in Ontario Parks

Meadow with farm fencing, some trees and spotted with Queen Anne's Lace on a summer day.

What can you do?

Help save Bobolink by:

  • considering the Bobolink when you mow, cut or rake your hay
  • share this article with hay farmers in your community
  • spread the word by sharing the link for this post on Twitter or Facebook
Male bobolink (black with white back of head) perched in the fall on dead Queen Anne's Lace with green in the background.
Male Bobolink

Review the Ontario Recovery strategy for the Bobolink and the Eastern Meadowlark.