Yellow-headed Blackbird

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Yellow-headed Blackbird specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A large (8-11 inches) blackbird, the male Yellow-headed Blackbird is most easily identified by its black body, black wings with white wing patches, yellow head and throat, and black facial mask between the eyes and the bill. Female Yellow-headed Blackbirds are dull brown on the head and body and yellow on the breast. Males are unmistakable in this species’ range, while females may be distinguished from other dull female blackbirds by this species’ characteristic yellow breast pattern. The Yellow-headed Blackbird breeds in the western United States and Canada, primarily on the Great Plains and interior west, but also in California, the Colorado River valley, and the Great Lakes region. Most populations migrate south to the desert southwest, Texas, and northern Mexico during the winter, while the Colorado River valley populations are non-migratory. Individual Yellow-headed Blackbirds occasionally spend the winter in central California and Florida, while others may turn up in the east at any time of the year. Yellow-headed Blackbirds primarily breed in marshes and flooded grasslands. On migration and during the winter, this species may also visit drier habitats, such as fields and meadows. Yellow-headed Blackbirds primarily eat small insects during the summer, switching over to a plant-based diet (mainly seeds and grains) during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Yellow-headed Blackbirds may be seen foraging for food on the ground or on the stalks of marsh grasses. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a strange combination of slurred, buzzing, liquid, and trilling notes. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

A casual visitor to the Washington region in the fall. The male has the entire head, throat, and breast yellow; the female has no yellow on the top of the head.

Specimen Information

This male is in the lower front with a female towards the back.
Date:  4/17/1884
Collected By:  EA Mearns
Locality:  Fort Verde, Arizona
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  235245

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC54826 Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (Yellow-headed Blackbird)

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus