Rarely has a bird’s name so perfectly described the appearance of the bird itself. Males of this species boast a saffron-yellow head and chest over a black body. This elegant appearance contrasts with its raucous "song," a grating series of rattles followed by a harsh squeal.
On the Menu
Breeding Yellow-headed Blackbirds eat primarily aquatic insects, usually found while walking along the mud at water's edge. Weed seeds and grains dominate their diet for the rest of the year. Yellow-headed Blackbirds probe with their bills, prying open and flipping over materials to reach food. Mixed-species foraging flocks appear to roll over flat land, as birds at the back fly to the front, where the ground has not yet been gleaned.
Home Sweet Home
Yellow-headed Blackbirds breed across the upper Midwest, north and westward through much of lower Canada, and west and southward into Arizona and New Mexico. Wintering birds range in flocks from central California through the southern third of Arizona, New Mexico, and south through the farmlands of Mexico. Yellow-headed Blackbirds breed over deep water, in freshwater marshes with cattails, bulrushes, or reeds. They avoid dense vegetation. Post-breeding flocks forage on open farmlands and prairies, feedlots, and freshwater wetlands.
How Am I Doing?
Although Yellow-headed Blackbirds can be common when water is plentiful, urban encroachment on wetlands and the associated water loss threatens breeding colonies. Where colonies have been lost, efforts to reintroduce this beautiful songbird have failed. After breeding, Yellow-headed Blackbirds join large mixed-species foraging flocks. These flocks can be perceived as pests by farmers, and the noise and droppings associated with large roosts may be considered undesirable in some residential areas.
Help from Audubon
Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program has been helpful in identifying critical habitat for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Moreover, Audubon works with private landowners – including farmers and ranchers – to improve the habitat value of working lands for these and other birds.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds are more closely related to meadowlarks than to other blackbirds.