Every summer, several species of songbirds arrive in our largest open grasslands to nest. With a tendency to stay out in the open and make themselves heard, bobolinks are a very noticeable example. In June, bobolinks arrive in North American grasslands, having flown some 6,000 miles from the pampas grasslands of Argentina, one of the longest bird migrations in the New World. The males, their plumage resembling a handsome tuxedo, arrive about a week before the duller females. They call out with a loud and slightly comical song, not unlike the friendly babble of Star Wars’ R2-D2. (Want to compare? Listen to the bobolink and then to R2-D2.)
Chicago-region grasslands, particularly those larger than 250 acres, are critically important for bobolinks, which require treeless, grassy expanses to breed. Three Cook County forest preserves have been named Important Bird Areas for grassland-nesting birds: Spring Creek, Bartel Grassland and Paul Douglas. In June, they’re all good places to see bobolinks, as well as other grassland songbirds such as the dickcissel, Henslow’s sparrow, savannah sparrow, Eastern meadowlark and grasshopper sparrow.
The Forest Preserves partners with groups such as Audubon to restore important grassland habitat in the forest preserves. Learn more about Important Bird Areas.