At a Glance

In the Midwest in summer, male Dickcissels sometimes seem to sing their name from every wire, fencepost, or weed stalk in prairie or farming country. Very erratic in summer occurrence, they may nest in large numbers in an area one year and be totally absent there the next, presumably as a response to rainfall and its effect on habitat. Away from their mid-continent stronghold, migrant Dickcissels are often detected by their electric-buzzer callnote as they fly overhead. Most winter in the tropics, but a few spend the winter at bird feeders in the Northeast, where they usually flock with House Sparrows.
Cardinals, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Formation, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Migrates in flocks, sometimes in flocks of many hundreds. Strays reach both coasts in autumn. Rarely found in our area in winter except in Northeast, where a few may spend the season at bird feeders.


6" (15 cm). Male has black bib on yellow chest, rusty shoulder. Female like House Sparrow but with hint of yellow on chest, reddish on shoulder.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Song sounds like dick-dick-cissel, the first two notes being sharp sounds followed by a buzzy, almost hissed cissel; repeated over and over again from a conspicuous perch on a fence, bush, or weed. Call a distinctive buzzy note, often given in flight.
Call Pattern
Call Type


Alfalfa and other fields; meadows, prairies. Originally nested in native prairies and meadows. Today, many nest in fields of alfalfa, clover, timothy, or other crops. In migration, may be found in any kind of grassy or weedy fields.



4, sometimes 3-5, rarely 2-6. Pale blue, unmarked. Incubation is by female only, about 12-13 days.


Nestlings are fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 7-10 days after hatching, are unable to fly for several more days.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground and in low vegetation. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


Mostly insects and seeds. Insects make up majority of diet in early summer; included are many grasshoppers, also crickets, caterpillars, beetles, and many others. At other seasons, may feed mainly on seeds, including those of weeds and grasses, also cultivated grain.


In many areas, numbers of nesting Dickcissels are wildly variable from year to year. Males arrive on breeding grounds about a week before females, and sing to defend nesting territory. One male may have more than one mate. Nest site is usually on or near the ground, typically well concealed in dense growth of grass, weeds, alfalfa, clover, or other plants. Sometimes placed in shrub or low tree, up to 6' above ground, exceptionally higher. Nest (built by female) is a bulky open cup made of weeds, grass, leaves, lined with fine grass, rootlets, sometimes animal hair.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Formerly nested commonly along Atlantic seaboard, but disappeared during late 19th century; has reappeared as a breeding bird in the East since the 1920s, but only in small numbers. Overall populations recently have been declining again.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Dickcissel. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Dickcissel

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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