Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bob-o-lincoln, Goglu, Charlatán, Rice Bird, Reed Bird, Long-toed Rice-eater... A Bobolink is still as sweet!

The beautiful Bobolinks are on their way to South America now on what is an exceptionally long migration for a passerine, particularly for an Icertid (new World blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, grackles, etc.). Nonetheless, I decided to share the photo collage below of their summer shenanigans in the beautiful mixed-grass prairie of the Blind Souris Valley, within the Southwest Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie Important Bird Area. The Bobolink is a quietly inspirational bird and not just because they are so unique (only member of their genus) and males seem to wear their nuptial plumage backwards (pale above, black below), but also because of their delightfully goofy song and display (imagine a bouncing ball over the prairie with an R2D2-like song) as well as because of their many “faces” (transitional plumages) and their phenomenal migration.  

The English name “Bobolink” is onomatopoeia for their song (shortened from “bob-o-lincoln”), as is their rather cute French name “Goglu” (Goglu des prés  = “Goglu” of the meadows), but my favourite name is the Spanish “Charlatán” that fits their charlatan antics as they bobble around both prairie and pampas (in the most endearing way possible of course). They also get called the nickname “rice bird” and their scientific name echoes this: the genus name derives from the Greek δολιχός = long + ὄνυξ = claw and the species epithet derives from Latin oryza = rice + vorare = devour (although it is tempting to think of onyx as the gemstone, describing the bird’s pattern, that is not the original meaning).

The Bobolink sadly is a species in decline and listed as Threatened in Canada by COSEWIC, though the declines are more severe in the eastern grasslands than in the prairies (long-term decline since 1970 in Manitoba of -1.5% per annum and in Canada of -3.2% per annum based on current Breeding Bird Survey statistics). If you live in the eastern U.S.A, take a look at The Bobolink Project website or in eastern Canada, see this page and/or the COSEWIC report hereY para mis amigos de América del Sur, consulten esta página

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Southwest Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie IBA, Manitoba, Canada, © Christian Artuso


  1. I just don’t get the ‘Bob o Link’ from their call. Any other ideas? The poem ‘Robert of Lincoln’ might be a source.

  2. To my ear, it fits well and the French "goglu" is very similar... as always, there are usually multiple hypotheses

    The poem Robert of Lincoln actually references the onomatopoeia:

    "Robert of Lincoln is telling his name;
    Bob-o'-link, bob-o'-link"

    So the peom supports the onomatopoeia hypothesis.

  3. In Michigan, I often heard these birds singing in the fields, but didn't know then which bird it was. I thought it was a lark. I always associated the song with Saturday morning cartoons' broadcast song. I've downloaded a copy of the bird's song but it's not exactly how I remembered hearing it.


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