The bobolink, a bird of large grasslands, is one of Barrington’s most cosmopolitan summer residents. It spends winter months in the pampas and wetlands of northern Argentina and Paraguay, and flies over and through many countries each spring before returning to its breeding territory in North American prairies and fields. The bobolink’s bubbly, joyous jumble of notes is one of the surest signals that nesting season has begun.
But the status of the bobolink is not secure. Once widespread over much of the United States, bobolink populations have plummeted over the last fifty years as the grasslands they depend on have been plowed up, paved over, or built upon. According to the National Audubon Society, the decline of the bird in Illinois in that time period exceeds 90%.
The good news is that, in Barrington, bobolinks are increasing and, in some places, thriving. The reason is expansion of suitable habitat, thanks to restoration efforts by public agencies such as the Cook County Forest Preserve District and non-profit groups like Citizens for Conservation, Audubon Chicago Region, and Spring Creek Stewards.
As volunteers and agency staff work to rebuild and expand native prairie ecosystems in the area, bobolinks have returned in robust numbers. Their happy song and buoyant flight now grace several restoration sites. One of the best – and surest – places to spot bobolinks is Galloping Hill, part of the Spring Creek Forest Preserve, directly across from the Penny Road Pond parking lot in Barrington Hills.
It is not difficult to identify a bobolink. A member of the blackbird family with a sharp, conical bill, the male looks all black from the front. But when it turns around, it reveals a flashy white and black pattern on its back, as well as a mustard yellow cap on the back of its head that looks almost like velvet.
The female, however, looks entirely different. While similar in shape and size to the male, she sports head stripes and soft brown feathers in a subtle pattern that undoubtedly helps camouflage her as she incubates eggs in the nest she makes on the ground. Both males and females are handsome to my eye and I count sightings of them among the most satisfying experiences of a summer day in the field.
But if you want to see bobolinks this summer, you will need to hurry. Already they have begun to gather, or stage, for their long return flights to South America.
About the Author
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.
Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.
Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
For more information about a cause close to Wendy’s heart here in Barrington, visit CitizensForConservation.org.
CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series.