Photo credit: Dan Lory

The Bobolink is living proof that with even the most impressive creatures, often the males just don't know how to dress.

There is a lot about this bird to raise the eyebrows. First, their migration route. Some Bobolinks fly from the far reaches of South America to the northern great plains of the US and Canada. That's about 12,500 frequent-flyer miles per year. By the time it's six years old, the Bobolink has flown the equivalent of about 3 times around the globe!

And how does it know where it's going? It follows its nose. Of course it uses its eyes and ears, too, but apparently there are little bristles in the Bobolink's nasal cavity that contain iron oxide. These help the bird orient itself along the earth's magnetic fields. Pretty cool.


But when it comes to plumage, it seems the males checked their sense of direction at the door. During most of the year, the male and female look pretty similar--beautiful shades of gold, with soft black and brown streaks. But in spring, when the hormones are flowing, an adult male in his stepping-out attire looks like he saw a photo in an old Time magazine, and just had at it with some white-out and a black marker. The result is a black-and-white zoot suit worn backward.  "Hmmm, interesting," is all you hear from all the other birds in the field.


Except for the female Bobolinks. The species has been propagating successfully for many millennia, so who's to fault the Bobolink male for his taste?

Actually, the Bobolink faces other non-sartorial threats to its future. Its favorite food and source of energy are rice and other seeds that are found in uncut meadows and in the remaining prairies of North and South America. As we replaced the prairies with farmland, we also destroyed Bobolink habitat. Many communities and organizations throughout the midwest are working to restore patches of prairie wherever possible. Get involved in one, if you can, and increase the chances that your children's children too can see this marvelous bird.

Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.