This week's featured creature is seldom seen, but is quite striking in its appearance.

Specifically, breeding males are striking, with a mixture of black, white and yellow colors.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the male bobolink as appearing to be wearing a tuxedo backward, and some people refer to bobolinks as “skunk blackbirds,” due to the white markings on their backs.

I always enjoy observing these birds, however, the period for seeing them in Oklahoma during spring migration is fleeting. They pass through between about April 26 to May 10.

Also, I mentioned that these birds are seldom seen, and that is because they tend to hang out amongst the vegetation in pastures, low to the ground.

However, I have seen them perched on fences in rural areas. These birds were feeding along the vegetation along the fence lines when not perching.

The bird is so named due to the singing of the males during the breeding season which a metallic, bubbly, rambling song with a mixture of sharp high notes and buzzy low pitches.

The bobolink is considered a world champion amongst songbird migrants, as they travel about 12,500 miles to and from southern South America each year. Throughout its lifetime, an individual bird may travel the equivalent of four or five times around the circumference of the earth, according to ornithologists.

Appearance

These birds are about 6.5 to 8.5 inches in length.

Breeding males are black below and black and white above -- back and wings. Also, they have black faces and yellowish patches on the backs of the heads (photo).

Females and nonbreeding males look like long sparrows with a lot of yellow coloring, especially on the faces and undersides.

Range

Bobolinks breed in portions of the northern United States and southern Canada, eh. They winter in an interior area of the southern half of South America.

Habitat

During migration, they inhabit grassy or overgrown fields, and pastures. I most often see them feeding in and amongst vetch.

Food

They eat mostly seeds, and insects and spiders.

Odds and ends

According to the Cornell Lab, a migrating bobolink can orient itself with the earth’s magnetic field. This is due to iron oxide in bristles of its nasal cavity and in tissues around the olfactory bulb and nerve. Bobolinks also use the starry night sky to guide their travels.

(Editor's Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.)

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