The Backyard Birds Newsletter
They live on a planet with two summers. They don't like trees. They sing jazz. They carry on like tiny penguins doing kabuki.
In early May, the males show up overnight. I go out on the grassy field one morning, and they're there, singing as they fly circles around me. I can see each one looking down, checking me out. Their song is a musical jumble, like bells and bubbles and laughter mixed in a blender, yet with each note distinct and precise. As if each bird had many birds inside, all singing at once. Some say they got their name, bobolink, for their song.
I'm more used to birds singing from the trees. I'm not so used to birds singing while they're circling me like an airborne posse until I'm dizzy from watching them. They orbit me for a couple of minutes and then peel away. Some fly away low and direct, as if to patrol the entire field from one end to the other. Some beat their wings stiffly and fly so slowly I think they're going to stall like a little plane whose engine has stopped.
I'm sure the purpose of these slow flights is pure theater, to show the great white patches on their wings and backs, in sharp contrast to the black below. Even when they land, they hold their wings clear of the rump, the better to display its whiteness.
Within a few days the females show up, dressed for modesty in streaks and browns, like sparrows, so different from the males that it would be hard to guess they're the same species. Now the pairs chase, two by two, twisting through the air in close pursuit. And soon the females disappear. They're down in the grass, working with nests and eggs.