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Edith M. Patch

Bob o' Link

T HERE was a laughterlike lilt in Bob's song when he reached his northern meadow home. It was May—a gay time of year—and his merry melodies could be heard by all who passed that way.

For a while Bob and his traveling companions sang in choruses. They had been good comrades all the way from South America while in a large flock. Now groups of a dozen or so might be heard singing cheerful tunes from the high branches of an oak grove at the edge of the prairie. Or their music might come from the tops of tall meadow weeds or from the air while they dashed about in exciting flights.

These singing bobolinks were dressed in black and white and pale buffy yellow: black on the crown and sides of the head, on the throat and other under parts; white on the shoulders, rump, and lower part of the back; yellow on the back of the head and neck.

After a week or more something very important happened in Bobolink Meadow. Another flock of bobolinks arrived. They were dressed in ordinary streaky suits that were yellowish-brown above and brownish-yellow below. They did not come singing. The only word of greeting they spoke was "Chink!"

Although these later arrivals were quiet in dress and manner, they attracted a great deal of attention from Bob and the other singers. Indeed, the songsters changed their habits. They no longer sang in choruses. They did not even have quartets or trios or duets. Each of the musical bobolinks still sang, and his tune was as jolly as before; but he was singing a solo now.

Bob's solo was his love song. He tried to make one of the streaky yellow-brown, brownish-yellow birds like him so well that she would become his mate. Much to his joy, she was quite glad to be Mrs. Bob.


Bob o' Link and his mate.

For some time this burbling bobolink was busy stating his claim to as much of the meadow as he would need for the use of his own family. It never would do to run short of tender green grasshoppers and other insects when he and Mrs. Bob had a nest full of young Bobs to feed. He didn't have any surveying instruments to help him find out how much land he wanted. He measured it by swinging over one large part of the field in rapid dashing flight—up and down, right and left, turning this way and that. As he flew, he sang his same rollicking tune, but it had a new meaning now: "All this part of the meadow belongs to me, belongs to me, belongs to me and my family! No trespassing, remember! No trespassing, remember!"

Early in June Bob and his mate found just the right place for their nest. The chosen site was beside a thick tussock, or bunchy tuft, of grass. Old brown grass blades, slender, broken weed stems and rootlets were used to build the frame of the nest in a little hollow on the ground. Finer materials of the same sort made a good lining.

There was no roof of woven grass over this nest. such as a meadowlark's nest has. But some of the long, grass stems on the tussock bent over and helped hide it. A clump of black-eyed Susans stood near, too, sheltering one side of the nest. These plants were tall daisies with dark brown center disks surrounded by yellow ray flowers. In spite of their name, they had brown instead of black "eyes."

Not far away Prairie Creek flowed quietly through Prairie Bog on its way from Prairie Pond to Prairie Grove. Bob and Mrs. Bob often were thirsty, and they liked to have their home lot near a meadow creek. Mrs. Bob o' Link laid five eggs in this nest. They were grayish-blue with brownish-purple spots. After her eggs were all laid, she sat on her nest almost all the time for ten days and nights. She left it only for a few minutes now and then when she needed to take a walk to catch a grasshopper and perhaps get a sip of water from the creek.

Bob did not help brood the eggs during those ten days and nights. But he did do his full share in taking food to the young as soon as they were hatched. The five little Bobs kept both parents busy bringing them grasshoppers, crickets, and caterpillars to eat.

The Bob daughters looked very much like their mother when they were grown and out of their nest and flying about. The Bob sons looked just like their sisters. None of them had a suit like that their father wore when he came north in May. Even Bob was not wearing those black and white and buffy yellow feathers in August when his sons and daughters were flitting over the meadow. He had shed them, and his new feathers were like those Mrs. Bob wore.

Father Bob had lost his gay song, too. He may have been just as happy as ever—but all he said was "Chink!"  except when he sometimes gave a very few of his song notes, as if they were not yet quite forgotten. Those spring comrades of his who came north with him also had shed their black and white and buffy yellow feathers and had lost their songs. All the bobolinks, young and old, had on their fall traveling suits.

The father birds no longer acted as guards, each telling other bobolinks to keep off his home grounds. They all felt sociable again and gathered together in flocks. They still ate some insects; but they now took more cereal foods, and they didn't need to worry about having a special hunting ground for each family.

These birds soon were to start on a journey of four thousand miles or more—to a land that lies beyond the Amazon River in South America. And the only talking they did was to call "Chink!"  to one another.

Do you know that there are bulletins and circulars and books giving maps of the trip that birds of this kind take? Their course is called the Bobolink Route, or Route No. 3. Various publications tell about the different places where the birds may find rest and food. "Bobolink tourist camps," they might be called. The names of some of the most important of these along the southward trail are South Carolina, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, and Venezuela.


The Bobolink Route

Of course, neither Bob nor any of the bobolinks used the travel leaflets. They did not know that men had printed them. However, they didn't need maps or road signs. They found their tourist stopping places without any help.

The travelers liked the food that grew at their camping grounds, and they took their trip in a leisurely manner with plenty of time for picnics. They were hungry for seeds at this time of year and often stopped in swamps where tall reeds were growing. That is why one name for a bobolink is "reedbird."

Those bobolinks that had nested in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, southern Canada, and some other northern places had many of their first August feasts of the seeds of tall coarse swamp grass called "Indian rice" or "wild rice" or "water oats." They enjoyed the soft unripe seeds in the tender milky stage (as you like unripe sweet corn).

When the travelers reached cultivated rice fields in South Carolina or other places along their route, they ate seeds of this crop greedily—so greedily, indeed, that it is not strange that another name for a bobolink is "ricebird."

It was well that Bob and his companions ate and grew very strong before they came to parts of their route where there were no tourist camps—places where they could neither rest nor eat. They flew high over water from Florida to Cuba, from Cuba to Jamaica, and from Jamaica to Venezuela. But they did not lose their way either by land or by sea, either by day or by night.

Did you know that bobolinks do much of their traveling by night? They are not really night birds, of course, like owls, and they rest at night when they are not taking their long trips. But while on their migration journeys they are likely to be flying during the moonlight hours. The migrants do not stray from their flock while they are flying at night. They call "Chink!"  very often, and keep within speaking distance of one another.

Some of the bobolinks that Bob and his comrades saw stopped near swamps south of the Amazon. Most of them went much farther—until they reached the marshes and plains near the Paraguay River. There they found summer in January. On the warm prairies of South America they stayed in sociable flocks while the prairies of North America were covered with snow.