|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.|
|Family||Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings|
|Habitat||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.|
Forages mostly on the ground and in low vegetation. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.
4, sometimes 3-5, rarely 2-6. Pale blue, unmarked. Incubation is by female only, about 12-13 days. Young: Nestlings are fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 7-10 days after hatching, are unable to fly for several more 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.
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.
Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds
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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.
- All Seasons - Common
- All Seasons - Uncommon
- Breeding - Common
- Breeding - Uncommon
- Winter - Common
- Winter - Uncommon
- Migration - Common
- Migration - Uncommon
See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.Learn more
Songs and CallsSong 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.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Dickcissel
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
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.