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Yellow-headed Blackbird

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

With a golden head, a white patch on black wings, and a call that sounds like a rusty farm gate opening, the Yellow-headed Blackbird demands your attention. Look for them in western and prairie wetlands, where they nest in reeds directly over the water. They’re just as impressive in winter, when huge flocks seem to roll across farm fields. Each bird gleans seeds from the ground, then leapfrogs over its flock mates to the front edge of the ever-advancing troupe.

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Songs

Males sing a few musical notes followed by a screeching buzz, rather like a heavy door swinging on a very rusty metal hinge. They sing from cattails, bulrushes, fences, shrubs, or small trees in the morning and evening during the breeding season. Females make a chattering sound that may be considered a song.

Calls

Their calls include frequent check calls used in many situations during the breeding season, screams given by alarmed females, growls given by fighting or mating males, and harsh rattles given by males when predators are about.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Yellow-headed Blackbirds may visit feeders to eat seeds and grains, including sunflower seeds.

Find This Bird

In the Midwest and West, look for Yellow-headed Blackbirds both in freshwater wetlands and in nearby farm fields. Though they are striking in appearance, these birds spend a substantial time perched out of view in cattails or reeds, so listen for their harsh check calls and bizarre grinding, buzzing songs in order to pinpoint their location. When searching in farm fields, look for large concentrations of blackbirds and then scan them carefully. If the bulk of the birds are Red-winged Blackbirds or some other species, don’t despair—focus on finding a white wing patch or yellow head among the other species.