|Conservation status||Undoubtedly has declined in some areas with draining of marshes; however, still widespread and very common.|
|Family||Blackbirds and Orioles|
|Habitat||Fresh marshes. Forages in fields, open country. Breeds in freshwater sloughs, marshy lake borders, tall cattails growing in water up to 3-4' deep. Forages around marshes and also commonly in open pastures, plowed fields, cattle pens, feedlots.|
Forages mostly by walking on the ground in open fields or near the water's edge; also forages low in marsh vegetation. Sometimes catches insects in flight. May follow farm machinery in fields to feed on insects and grubs turned up by the plow. Except in nesting season, usually forages in flocks, often associated with other blackbirds.
4, sometimes 3-5. Pale gray to pale green, blotched and dotted with brown or gray. Incubation is by female only, 11-13 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest after about 9-12 days, but remain among dense marsh plants until they are ready to fly, about 3 weeks after hatching. 1 brood per year, possibly 2.
Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest after about 9-12 days, but remain among dense marsh plants until they are ready to fly, about 3 weeks after hatching. 1 brood per year, possibly 2.
Mostly insects and seeds. Feeds heavily on insects in summer, especially beetles, caterpillars, and grasshoppers, also ants, wasps, and others, plus a few spiders and snails. Young are fed mostly insects. Probably two-thirds of diet consists of seeds, including grass and weed seeds plus waste grain.
Typically nests in colonies in marshes, each male selecting territory within colony and defending it against rivals by singing. One male may have as many as 5 mates. Nest: Placed in marsh, firmly lashed to standing vegetation (cattails, bulrushes, reeds) growing in water, usually no more than 3' above water's surface. Nest (built by female) is a bulky, deep cup woven of aquatic plants, lined with dry grass or with fine, dry marsh plants.
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. Males may tend to winter farther north than females, on average. Strays reach Atlantic Coast, especially in fall.
- 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 CallsHarsh, incessant oka-wee-wee and kruck calls, coming from many individuals in a colony, blend into a loud, wavering chorus.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Yellow-headed Blackbird
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 Yellow-headed Blackbird
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.