Spiza americana
Dickcissel specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A sparrow-sized (6-7 inches) songbird, the male Dickcissel is most easily identified by its mottled brown back, gray flanks, yellow breast, black throat patch, and gray face with conspicuous yellow eye-stripes. The female Dickcissel is similar to the male, but is duller and lacks the black on the throat. This species is similar in size and coloration to the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), but that species lacks any trace of yellow on its body. The Dickcissel primarily breeds in the central Great Plains. Smaller numbers breed further north and south on the Plains and locally in the Mid-Atlantic region, although this species is less common outside its core range today than in was a century ago. This species is a long-distance migrant, wintering from southern Mexico south to Venezuela. Dickcissels are heavily dependent on open areas for breeding, and may be found on grassland, prairie, and agricultural fields. During the winter, this species utilizes similar habitat types as in summer. Dickcissels primarily eat seeds and small insects in summer, eating seeds alone during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Dickcissels may be seen foraging for food on the ground below grasses and other low plants. Males may also be seen singing this species’ characteristic “dick-ciss-ciss-ciss” song from a prominent perch, such as a fencepost. Dickcissels are primarily active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species undertakes part of its migration at night.

DC Information

Unusual and very irregular visitor in the summer; formerly a common summer resident. About 1875 this species disappeared from most of its eastern range. Now seen in agricultural fields and meadows in June, July, and August. Females lack the black and yellow breast.

Specimen Information

The bird on the right is a male.  The bird on the left could be either a female or a juvenile.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17102 Spiza americana (Dickcissel)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17103 Spiza americana (Dickcissel)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC56675 Spiza americana (Dickcissel)