Bobolink in Carden

Ron Pittaway

First published in Toronto Ornithological Club Newsletter, January 2020, No 293

Bobolink on the Carden Alvar by Jean Iron


Seeing male Bobolinks rise into the air on quivering wings while singing a repeated bob-o-link is a welcoming sight and sound of the Carden Alvar. The name Bobolink likely originated from an imitation of its song (Choate 1985).


IDENTIFICATION: Spring males are strikingly black and white with a creamy buff nape. Fall males, females and juveniles resemble sparrows and are sometimes mistaken for Grasshopper Sparrows.


VOICE: The male’s song is a bubbling bob-o-link so rapidly repeated that the notes fall over each other. Bobolinks sing while perched and during aerial displays on fluttering wings. Alarm call is a soft blackbird-like chuck. Flight call is a far-carrying metallic pink.


HABITS: Males arrive in early May followed about a week later by the females. Bobolinks chase Brown-headed Cowbirds off their nesting territories so nests are rarely parasitized by cowbirds. Males stop singing in early July and gather in flocks to molt before migration. Summer flocks consist of blotchy molting males, females and juveniles. Bobolinks depart Carden by late August. They have one of the longest migrations for a North American songbird, wintering as far away as the pampas of Argentina.


HABITAT: Nesting Bobolinks prefer large damp tall-grass meadows having a mixture of grasses, wildflowers and a few low bushes.


CONSERVATION: The Bobolink increased and expanded its range in Ontario as forests were cleared for farms. It is now declining significantly. In 2010, it was listed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). In 2016, Partners in Flight listed it as a Species of Continental Concern. The causes of the decline are habitat losses from the conversion of grasslands to intensive croplands, early haying, plant succession, reforestation and suburban sprawl. Most Bobolink habitat is privately owned making it difficult to protect habitat or delay haying without landowner cooperation. The Carden Alvar is one of the few places in Ontario with protected habitat for Bobolinks and other grassland birds.


BEST PLACE: The best area is the meadows along Wylie Road north to the viewing blind. Bobolinks are found elsewhere in Carden in large tall grass fields.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Michel Gosselin for comments and Jean Iron for the photo.



Choate, E.A. 1985. The Dictionary of American Bird Names. Harvard Common Press, Boston.

Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan 2016. Canadian Wildlife Service and United States Fish and Wildlife Service.