When I grew up in Windsor, youngsters worked for dairy farmers each summer, beginning at about age 10. Children helped get hay into barns for winter, and nearly 20 dairy farms operated in my hometown alone. Other rural municipalities in central, midcoast and southern Maine contained as many or more dairy farms than Windsor – businesses that generated seasonal revenue for kids like me.

Dairy farming also produced myriad pastures, hay fields and crop fields, ideal habitat for bobolinks spending their summers in this breeding range. City parks and meadows also attracted this species, and during migration, bobolinks used marshes and grain fields.

Back then, bobolinks thrived in this state’s farm country, a common species on any summer day. They were so common I hardly gave one a second look – like robins or blue jays. In short, few folks excitedly pointed at a bobolink in a hayfield and said, “Hey, by golly, there’s a bobolink.”

This bird stands 7 inches tall, sports an 111/2-inch wingspan and weighs 11/2 ounces. Male bobolinks have black feathers below, white plumage on top and a cream patch on the nape. Once observers learn to ID the male, they can recognize him from long distances. In fall, females and males exhibit a rich buff with dark stripes on the back and crown – more generic.

Before settlers arrived, bobolinks inhabited America’s prairies and grasslands and ate seeds and insects, so they were uncommon in Maine. But this species learned to thrive wherever humans create fields and pastures, so beginning in the 1600s, agriculture brought bobolinks to New England.

Bobolinks spend the winter in pampas and llanos habitat in southern South America, and carbon studies of their feathers indicate what this bird eats during its migration and in its winter range. Scientists often study whether each bobolink is foraging on rice or wild grass.


On the way to Latin America, bobolinks stop in the U.S. South and gorge on rice, so folks there nicknamed them “rice bird.” Folks with a financial interest in the rice crop prefer that these birds stay away.

Newly created agricultural pastures and fields of settlers brought thriving bobolink to New England, but today the farming decline here has resulted in dwindling numbers. When bicycling, I’ll see a bobolink or two in a field and may stop to stare.

Maine’s current bobolink population reminds me of this state’s woodcock numbers. In the 20th century’s first 75 years, abandoned farming grasslands grew into second-growth forests, great habitat for woodcock. But now much of this brushy habitat has grown into primary forests – bad for woodcock but good for wild turkeys. Yes, humans inadvertently giveth and then taketh away.

Humans change habitat and greatly influence wild species. Astute nature observers note population catastrophes or abundances of certain species, and bird watchers really notice up and down years. For example, until this past winter and early spring, red-breasted nuthatches had proven scarce around my feeders for four years. In 2015, I have noticed them often.

Late winter storms, key forage scarcity, long periods of rain or drought and adversities can hurt species populations. Conducive weather, food abundance and so forth can help populations explode in small areas where these scenarios have happened. Mice, voles, lemmings, ruffed grouse, varying hares and deer go through similar cycles.

Here’s something else that intrigues me: During my youth in Maine, tufted titmice, mourning doves and turkey vultures were scarce to nonexistent, but these species have firmly established themselves here – probably because of folks feeding the first two, and warming climate attracting the three species and other creatures to expand into this state.


Meanwhile, a warming climate has worsened Maine’s Atlantic salmon problems, perhaps the largest negative facing them here. Sometimes I note Maine officials and advocates complain about dams on rivers or livestock pollution from rivers harming this species, and of course cows wading in water or dams can’t help. But in my youth, Atlantic salmon fishing proved attractive on the Sheepscot River and elsewhere in this state – despite 20 Windsor dairy farms – most of them located on Sheepscot tributaries. Also, Maine rivers surely have less dams than in my youth.

Humans change the climate through their actions, and in this state we see signs of it everywhere – new flora and fauna species, earlier ice-out dates, later ice-in dates, and on and on it goes.

I truly dislike name calling, but recently, MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews used the term “flat earthers” to describe folks who question the validity of global warming. That description works for me.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

[email protected]

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