Saturday, May 16, 2015

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

First let me enter a warning - I am not a "birder."  I say this not as a point of pride but in admiration for birders who study birds, identify their flight patterns and habits, recognize their calls (maybe), and keep track of where and when they see the first of a species or subsequent finds in nearby counties or distant lands.

Having said that, when I received an email from Charley Burwick titled "yellow-headed blackbird" which sounded like an oxymoron I thought he was blowing smoke.  Any school child has an image of a blackbird, featured in song as..... well a black bird.  But there was a picture that even he couldn't make up.

Ebird reported sightings- Darker =more frequent
In my defense, Charley tells me that any migration through Missouri is rare and brief and they are lucky to spot them. The yellow-headed blackbird winters in Mexico before migrating to the north-central states and Canada for breeding. They favor wetlands where they feed on insects and aquatic invertebrates. They often forage for seeds and grains in cultivated fields, mixing with flocks of other blackbird species. You can see on the EBird map of reported sightings above that their appearance in Missouri is very uncommon.

Displaying yellow-headed blackbird Courtesy of Ron Dudley
Like their red-winged blackbird cousins, they commonly cling to cattails while sending out their grinding, buzzing call.  Their displays can be incredible as described and illustrated by Ron Dudley at  The males aggressively defend their territory and may mate with up to 8 females, but generally will participate in raising only their first nesting.

Finally, if you ever are in a deep conversation with a birder, you can impress them with this fact.  "In 1825 Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, gave the first detailed description of the yellow-headed blackbird, which was collected in 1820 by Thomas Say and Sir John Richardson."  Take that, Burwick!

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