As Bobolinks return to North America from the tropics each spring, they have good reason to sing with joy. The two-ounce birds have completed one of the longest migrations of any songbird: roughly 6,000 miles.
The Bobolink’s Remarkable Journey
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
The Bobolink may just be the happiest bird of spring. There’s such delight in the Bobolink’s bubbly, jangling song. [Bobolink song]
As Bobolinks return to North America from the tropics each spring, they have good reason to sing with joy. [Bobolink song] The two-ounce birds have completed one of the longest migrations of any songbird: roughly 6,000 miles.
Bobolinks fly from Argentina all the way to the northern states and Canada. How do they manage to cross all that hazardous terrain and hundreds of miles of open water?
Like many birds, Bobolinks rely on cues from the stars and sun, and they’re guided by landmarks like rivers and mountain ranges. But Bobolinks also have an ace up their sleeve. Like some other migratory birds, they can sense the earth’s magnetic field. There are tiny quantities of the mineral magnetite deep in the Bobolink’s nasal tissues. It makes the Bobolink’s beak a kind of built-in compass.
By the time it reaches nine years old, one of these epic voyagers “will have flown a distance equivalent to four and a half times around the earth.”*
[Bobolink song, louder]
For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by A.A. Allen. Ambient audio recorded by D.S. Herr.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Editor: Ashley Ahearn
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill
Narrator: Mary McCann
BirdNote’s theme composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2008 Tune In to Nature.org May 2008/2019 / March 2023
ID# BOBO-02b-2019-5-23 BOBO-02b
* Background and quotation (p. 138) from Chu, Miyoko. Songbird Journeys. New York: Walker and Co., 2006.