Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) are robin-sized blackbirds found in prairie and mountain meadow wetlands of the western and central United States and Canada.  They are conspicuous not only because of the male’s bright yellow head and breast and their highly social behavior, but they produce some pretty strange calls as well.

You can hear the Yellow-headed Blackbird call by clicking on the sound link courtesy of Xeno-Canto.org.


I found this cluster of Yellow-headed Blackbirds in Sierra Valley, California, on a bird outing with the local Audubon Society after installing some artificial Burrowing Owl habitat earlier that day.

I had returned to the location we had seen this rather large breeding flock to photograph some Sandhill Cranes that were also nesting in this large wetland that makes up part of the headwaters of the middle fork of the Feather River. As I was photographing the cranes, I noticed this male blackbird walking up the road towards me and barely had time to turn my camera around to get a portrait shot of him in his bright yellow splendor (click on photos for full sized images).

His rivals where on the other side of the bridge, foraging on the lily pads for aquatic insects.

The female Yellow-headed Blackbird is not quite as flashy as her beau, but she doesn’t need to be.

You see, the males arrive in the breeding grounds before the females and establish a territory that they defend aggressively against other males.  They are polygynous,  having up to 16 females in their harem.  Yea, I’m bad!

But look, I can be cool too.  Negotiating these lily pads can be tough but I’m having a great time finding all these tasty tidbits.

How easy do you think it is to impress all these females?

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Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.