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
Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus resides in open cultivated
lands, pastures, fields, and fresh-water marshes of cattail,
tule, or bulrushes (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).
This species is a resident of southern Canada, the western United
States, and the upper Mississippi Valley to northwestern Mexico
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).
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
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).
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
Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton
Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.
Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.