California Nature

Learn about California's beautiful and unique nature.

California Blackbirds
Blackbirds refer to any of various New World birds of the family Icteridae, such as the grackle or red-winged blackbird, the male of which has black or predominantly black plumage. California is home to four different species of blackbirds: the Red-winged Blackbird, the Yellow Headed Blackbird, the Tricolored Blackbird, and the Rusty Blackbird. A group of blackbirds has many collective nouns, including a "cloud", "cluster", and "merl" of blackbirds.

Of all the California blackbirds, only the tricolored blackbird lives mainly in the state of California. More than 99% of Tricolored Blackbirds live in 46 of California's 58 counties, and most of the largest colonies have historically occurred in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. The other California blackbirds are found widespread throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The yellow headed blackbird is found in California natureThe Yellow-headed Blackbird has an enormous range reaching up to generally 4.7 million square kilometers. This bird can be found in Canada, the United States and Mexico. These blackbirds have one of the most unique bird calls. It has been described as a strange mixture of honking, gurgling and strangling noises. Yellow-headed Blackbird are medium-sized blackbird with black body, bright yellow hood and breast, and distinct white wing patches. Bill, legs and feet are black. Foraging in low vegetation and on the ground, the yellow-headed blackbird feeds on insects, larvae, snails, seeds, and grains. This blackbird has strong direct flight on rapid wing beats. Yellow-headed Blackbirds breeds from central British Columbia, northern Alberta, and Wisconsin south to southern California, northern New Mexico, and Illinois. The yellow-headed blackbird spends winters in southern U.S. and northern Mexico. Nesting in freshwater marshes during migration and in winter preferring open, cultivated lands, fields, and pastures, the yellow-headed blackbird has a strong population. In winter, single-species flocks may form, sometimes consisting of all males or all females. Large foraging flocks move in a rolling fashion, birds from the back of the flock fly over the rest to the front. Depending on the quality of his territory, a male Yellow-headed Blackbird may be able to acquire up to six mates. Males who acquire new territory do not destroy broods sired by the previous territorial male.

The Red-winged Blackbird is found throughout North and Central America. Winters may be spent in Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations usually migrate south to Mexico and the southern United States. This species typically feed on seeds and insects. These birds also nest in small colonies and migrate in single-sex flocks. Nests are built in cattails, grasslands or willow bushes. Red-winged Blackbird is a small blackbird with jet-black body and bright red shoulder patches edged with yellow on bottom. Red-winged black birds run or hop while foraging on the ground. These common blackbirds eat seeds, grains, berries, fruits, insects, caterpillars, spiders, snails, grubs and mollusks. red winged blackbirds have a strong direct flight on rapid wing beats. During migration the Red-winged Blackbird can travel at over 30 mph. Each pair of Red-winged Blackbirds raise 2-3 broods per season. Each time they build a new nest, which keeps the nest from becoming infected with parasites that could kill the baby birds

The tricolored blackbird is a native blackbird in California natureThe Tricolored Blackbird has a small range, found almost entirely in California. Continued loss of habitat has threatened the species' survival, in the past decade their population has declined by more than 40%. The tricolor is a medium-sized, blackbird that is mostly black with a glossy blue tint overall. Shoulder patches are bright red and bordered with white.. Adult males are glossy black, often with an iridescent blue-green sheen in bright sunlight. Adult females are dark brown with dark gray and brown streaks, with bellies more consistently dark brown than in the very similar female red-winged blackbird. Breeding males average 60-65 grams and breeding females average 40-45 grams. Total body length is 18-24 cm. The Tricolored Blackbird lives in flocks year round. This bird feeds on insects, spiders, caterpillars, and seeds from weeds and grains. Tricolored blackbirds have strong direct flight on rapid wing beats. Breeding in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Baja California, Oregon birds migrate south in winter while California birds are resident. Preferred habitats include annual grasslands, wet and dry vernal pools, and other seasonal wetlands.

The Rusty Blackbird has a large range, breeding from the New England region of the United States, through Canada, and up to Alaska. Native to the United States and Canada as well as Saint Pierre and Miquelon, this bird prefers inland wetland ecosystems. The global population of this bird is estimated at less than two million individuals, a decline of over 85% since 1966. This bird shows significant signs of population decline that necessitate inclusion on the IUCN Red List. For this reason, the current evaluation status of the Rusty Blackbird is Vulnerable. Rusty Blackbird are medium blackbirds, and are black overall with a dull, blue-green sheen, yellow eyes. The Rusty blackbird forages on the grounds of wet woodlands and fields, wading in marshes or small pools of water. Rusty Blackbirds feed on insects, caterpillars, snails, crustaceans, small fish, salamanders, fruits, grains and seeds. Strangely the Rusty Blackbird has been documented feeding on sparrows, robins, and snipe, among others.

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