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Yellow-headed Blackbird
Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Icteridae

Physical Characteristics

About 8-11 inches (20-28 cm) long. The male is black with an orange-yellow head and breast. He also shows a white wing patch in flight. The female is smaller and browner. She shows the most yellow on her throat and chest while her lower breast is streaked with white. Both sexes have dark legs, feet, and sharply pointed bills. Their claws are curved for grasping and gripping (Peterson, 1990).


Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus resides in open cultivated lands, pastures, fields, and fresh-water marshes of cattail, tule, or bulrushes (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).

Geographic Range

This species is a resident of southern Canada, the western United States, and the upper Mississippi Valley to northwestern Mexico (Peterson, 1990).


This omnivorous ground feeder will eat almost any plant or animal matter that it can swallow; however, it does consume more plant than animal matter. The diet often includes worms, insects, mussels, snails, crayfish, frogs, lizards, bird eggs, nestlings, and seeds (Leahy, 1982).

Reproductive Characteristics

The nest is cemented with mud or dung with an inner lining of finer plant fibers, fresh grasses, or hair. Nesting is in loose to rather crowded colonies (Leahy, 1982). The female usually lays 4-5 (3-7) eggs that are glossy, white to pale blue, green, pinkish, purplish, or brown and sparsely to densely speckled (Leahy, 1982).


The Yellow-Headed Blackbird is gregarious, often traveling and roosting in flocks. Their winter roosts may build up to millions of birds (Fisher and Peterson, 1977). They are often heard as a low kruck or kack. In song, a series of low, hoarse, rasping notes that sound like rusty hinges are produced with a great deal of effort (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Burton, P. 1983. Vanishing eagles. Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 140 pp.

Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917 pp.

Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.


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