Bobolink Meadow

photo of a BobolinkA resident of grassy meadows, male Bobolinks have a fantastic song—a rather unbelievable gurgling outburst of notes that reminds one of the voice of the droid R2-D2 in the Star Wars movies. F. Schuyler Mathews, author of Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music (first published in 1904), described it as “a mad, reckless, song-fantasia, an outburst of pentup, irrepressible glee.”

Although I’ve gathered many closeup recordings of the male Bobolink’s song (see Bobolink Song Fantasia), I’ve found it difficult to get a good soundscape rendition of more than one male singing. I finally struck gold in the spring of 2009 while videotaping Bobolinks in the Finger Lakes National Forest in upstate New York. One dead-calm morning when there was no traffic or jet sounds, I put down my video gear and captured the following soundscape, which fully expresses the intense auditory excitement in the meadow when the Bobolinks are in full force:

Bobolinks and other birds singing in a grassy meadow, 5:45 am, 11 May 2009, Finger Lakes National Forest near Reynoldsville, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.

Busy indeed! But that is the essence of the experience, with male Bobolinks flying here and there, either chasing one another or in pursuit of females. They sing from perches and sing in flight. The meadow gurgles and vibrates with their songs. I rather like this recording. To me, it is comforting to listen to, largely because it brings to mind the simmering and seething of the meadow in spring. It is an engaging soundscape, with lots of activity, but it is not hard on the ears.

Notice the nice spread of sound, with two Bobolinks singing from close by, one to the left and the other to the right. Woodpeckers sound off in the distance, their drums reverberating across the landscape. Listen also for the conk-la-reees of Red-winged Blackbirds and the songs of other meadow birds such as Field Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow. A cardinal sings at times and I believe I hear the calls of Blue Jays here and there. So rich and full of sound!

What do you think? Do you like this soundscape? Do you already know the Bobolink and its song? Does this recording bring to mind the peak of excitement that is so characteristic of spring? Or is all the activity overwhelming and cacophonous to your ear?


  1. Thanks Lang. Now I know where to look for them. Next time I see an overgrown field, I think I’ll considering doing some birding there.

  2. They like big, grassy fields, which don’t necessarily have to be “remote”. For instance, if you lived on a farm with big hayfields that are left un-mowed until mid-summer, there could be lots of Bobolinks. Around here, we have the nearby Finger Lakes National Forest which has lots of large, managed clearings, some teaming with Bobolinks. You just need big fields with a healthy growth of grass. Plus, of course, you need to be within their range.

  3. These are the birds I heard in the recording: Pileated Woodpeckers, a Northern Flicker in the beginning, Blue Jays, a robin (once), Field Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, a Northern Cardinal, Red-Winged Blackbirds, and Bobolinks. I also thought I heard a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker twice, but that could just be me. I really did hear some other sort of woodpecker several times, either Downy or Red-Bellied, in my opinion.

    Question Lang: Do Bobolinks only like remote habitat? Here in Michigan they are common but I somehow have never seen one. I’m asking this because I live in southern Michigan, in an area that’s not really remote.

  4. very impressive i’ve listened to a flock of these gems/recordings… i was most taken by the Loon… however i was mezmerized by them all. My affected hearing was filled with the sound of birds, what could be better. I always notice when i’m not hearing birds.

    thank you Lang,

    Will Crain
    Billings, MT

  5. This is stupendous. I just love Bobolinks. As you said this recording really captures the essence of the Bobolink field experience. I can close my eyes and let my ears paint the picture of a gorgeous morning with these handsome birds flying around, singing from perches and chasing female. Glorious.

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