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The Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Photograph, Wiliam S. Cassilly (Glendale, Missouri)

The Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) of the icterid family is large (9.5 inches) with a dark body, yellow breast and head. They nest in noisy colonies in reed-filled marshes of the West and Midwest, sometimes flocking in the thousands in Winter; often with other Blackbirds. Their song is very poor. They are polygamists - a male Yellow-headed Blackbird defending territory may have five nesting females. (Females are known to sneak off to mate with other males occasionally, but they will chase away foreign females from their nest sites.) (C. Elphick, J. B. Dunning, Jr., D. A. Sibley, Editors, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001], p. 547)

The tiny Marsh Wren surprisingly is a real enemy of the colony, contending for territory by attacking the blackbirds' eggs and nestlings.

These striking birds eat insects and seeds. They consume beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers, but mostly seed -- grass, weed, and waste grain. Yellow-heads walk while foraging and usually forage in flocks. (Kenn Kaufman, Lives of North American Birds [New York: Houghton/Mifflin, 1996], p. 620)

Their nest is a deep, bulky cup of water plants, lashed to standing cattails or bulrushes about 3 feet above marsh water. Their numbers have declined with the drying of marshes, but they are still widespread. (Ibid, page 621)

This fellow is on vacation.


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