Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the yellow-headed blackbird.
OK, so we are used to the cacophonous interludes and red flashes of the red-winged blackbirds when they return to our regional wetlands in springtime. This week’s highlighted bird is yet another loud and beautiful blackbird species. The yellow-headed blackbird spends its breeding season in freshwater marshes roosting and feeding in cattails, bulrushes and other emergent vegetation. Males seek out nesting locations, typically right above water where food is readily abundant for feeding nestlings. Mature males will often mate with a number of females in one site, outcompeting younger males, red-winged blackbirds and even marsh wrens for choice locations. The females construct woven nests deep in the vegetation of their chosen male’s territories, where a single clutch can yield two to five eggs.
Many observers have likened the song of this bird to that of the grating, rusty hinge on a swinging gate. Others claim it sounds almost computer-generated. Regardless, this bird is a unique songster and a visit to a wetland setting when they are active in breeding behavior is unforgettable, as they fly back and forth busily across the water, defending nests, catching insects and feeding their nestlings.
Males are showy with bright yellow heads and dark black eye rings, lores, and bodies. Females and juveniles have less discernible yellow on their heads and throats and body plumage is browner. Their long, conical bills are built primarily for seed and grain eating, as they spend the remainder of the year in larger groups feeding in the varied chaparral, grass, and croplands of the southwestern United States and interior Mexico.
To observe these birds, pay a visit to one of our many marshes or cattail-lined areas of local lakes and keep your eyes peeled and ears tuned for this large and gregarious blackbird.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

This story was posted on July 18, 2019.