Bird of the Week


Photo courtesy Byron Greco

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the yellow-headed blackbird.

Recent sightings of turkey vultures and osprey tell us that spring migration is underway with the first wave of our summer birds arriving. When ice on wetlands and lakes thaws, yellow-headed blackbirds will show up from winter homes in fields and farmyards of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and northern Mexico to stake out a breeding territory here.

Perched atop a cattail with wings and tail spread, head lowered and thrust forward, the male announces his presence with an unmistakable song which is often compared to the noise made by a rusty gate. Melodious it isn’t. He defends a small wetland territory with nests built by up to eight female mates.

Larger yellow-headed blackbirds dominate over red-winged blackbirds, with whom they share breeding habitats. Yellow-headeds choose prime nest sites over the deeper water areas which offer protection from predators like skunks and raccoons.

Red-wingeds are evicted to the less-desirable edges of shallow water sections.

In summer yellow-headed blackbirds eat aquatic and terrestrial insects which they take from the ground, off plants and in the air. The rest of the year they feed on crop and weed seeds. Large numbers come together to feed in “rolling flocks” where birds in the rear leapfrog to the front and advance the flock forward.

The head and chest of this male blackbird are painted a vibrant yellow which contrasts with his black body and the mask over his eyes. White patches on the wings are visible in flight. Females are smaller brown birds washed with a muted yellow color on the face and chest. Fledglings may be spotted as early as late May and early June.

With new arrivals showing up and some looking for mates or building nests, April is an exciting month to get outside and spend some time with birds.

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