Priority Bird
Conservation status Declining significantly in recent decades; loss of nesting habitat is a likely cause.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Hayfields, meadows. In migration, marshes. Original prime breeding areas were damp meadows and natural prairies with dense growth of grass and weeds and a few low bushes. Such habitats still favored but hard to find, and today most Bobolinks in eastern United States nest in hayfields. Migrants stop over in fields and marshes, often feeding in rice fields.
Fluttering over meadows and hayfields in summer, the male Bobolink delivers a bubbling, tinkling song which, loosely interpreted, gives the species its name. The male is unmistakable in spring finery, but before fall migration he molts into a striped brown appearance like that of the female. Bobolinks in this plumage were once known as 'ricebirds' in the South, where they occasionally used to cause serious damage in the ricefields.

Feeding Behavior

Forages for insects and seeds both on the ground and while perched up in grass and weed stalks. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


5-6, sometimes 4-7. Grayish to pale reddish brown, heavily blotched with brown and lavender. Incubation is by female only, about 11-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-14 days after hatching, generally before they are able to fly. 1 brood per year.


Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-14 days after hatching, generally before they are able to fly. 1 brood per year.


Mostly insects and seeds. Majority of summer diet is insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, wasps, ants, and many others, also spiders and millipedes. Also eats many seeds of weeds, grasses, and grains. May feed more heavily on grain during migration, and in former times caused much damage in southern rice fields. In winter in the tropics, may also eat some berries.


Males arrive before females on nesting grounds, and display by flying over fields with shallow fluttering wingbeats while singing. In courtship on the ground, male spreads tail, droops wings, points bill down so that yellow nape is prominent. Nest: Placed on the ground (or rarely just above it), well hidden among dense grass and weeds. Typical ground nest is a slight depression holding a shallow open cup of grass and weed stems, lined with finer grasses.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Download Our Bird Guide App


Migrates in flocks. A long-distance migrant, wintering in southern South America, traveling mostly via Florida and the West Indies, with few occurring in Mexico or Central America.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

Songs and Calls

Flight song is a series of joyous, bubbling, tumbling, gurgling phrases with each note on a different pitch. Call a soft pink, often heard on migration.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.