Photo: Teddy Llovet/Flickr Creative Commons

Priority Bird

Tricolored Blackbird

Agelaius tricolor

While the Red-winged Blackbird is abundant over most of the continent, the very similar Tricolored Blackbird has a very small range in the Pacific states. It differs in its highly social nesting: in a dense cattail marsh, nests may be packed in close together, only a foot or two apart. Some colonies may have over 100,000 nests, although such large concentrations seem to be growing scarcer in recent years, as the birds shift to smaller (but hopefully more) colonies.
Conservation status Has declined seriously in numbers in recent decades, probably owing to loss of habitat. Probably endangered. Its habit of nesting in dense colonies probably makes it more vulnerable.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Cattail or tule marshes; forages in fields, farms. Breeds in large freshwater marshes, in dense stands of cattails or bulrushes. At all seasons (including when breeding), does most of its foraging in open habitats such as farm fields, pastures, cattle pens, large lawns.
While the Red-winged Blackbird is abundant over most of the continent, the very similar Tricolored Blackbird has a very small range in the Pacific states. It differs in its highly social nesting: in a dense cattail marsh, nests may be packed in close together, only a foot or two apart. Some colonies may have over 100,000 nests, although such large concentrations seem to be growing scarcer in recent years, as the birds shift to smaller (but hopefully more) colonies.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while walking on ground; also sometimes up in shrubs and trees. Usually forages in flocks, particularly outside the breeding season, often associated with Red-winged Blackbirds, other blackbirds, and starlings.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3-5, rarely 2-6. Pale blue-green, with markings of black, brown, and purple concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 11 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest about 11-14 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest about 11-14 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Feeds on many insects, especially in summer, including caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and others; also spiders. Especially in fall and winter, eats many seeds of grasses and weeds, and waste grain.


Nesting

Nests in colonies, more densely packed than Red-winged Blackbirds, with nests often only a couple of feet apart. In displaying to attract a mate, male perches on high stalk with feathers fluffed out and tail partly spread, lifts leading edge of wing so that red shoulder patches are prominent, lowers head, and sings. Nest: Placed in marsh in cattails or bulrushes, or in willows at water's edge, sometimes in tall growth in drier fields. Nest (built by female) is bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, reeds, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Not very migratory, withdrawing only from northernmost nesting areas in winter, but moves around considerably with seasons within its limited range. Colony sites also may shift from year to year.

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Migration

Not very migratory, withdrawing only from northernmost nesting areas in winter, but moves around considerably with seasons within its limited range. Colony sites also may shift from year to year.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Calls rather similar to those of the Red-wing, but song is more nasal, less musical.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Blackbirds and Orioles Perching Birds

Tricolored Blackbird

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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California Working Lands

California Working Lands

California’s Central Valley is one of this country’s most important food-producing areas, and a critical habitat for many birds

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