|In a perfect world, male Yellow-headed Blackbirds would have a song to match their splendid plumage. A spring trip to a wetland, however, often reveals the unfortunate truth: when the male arches his golden head backward, he struggles to produce a painful, pathetic, metallic grind. Although the song of the Yellow-headed Blackbird could be the worst in North America, its quality soon becomes an appreciated aspect of its marshy home-together with the smell, the insects and the clammy sogginess. In early spring, these blackbirds can be seen curiously probing into the heads of last year's cattails in search of larvae. Xanthocephalus is Greek for 'yellow-headed.'|
I.D.: Male: yellow head and breast; black back, wings, tail and underparts; white wing patches; black lore; long tail; black bill. Female: dusky brown overall; yellow breast, throat and eyebrow; hints of yellow in the face.
Size: L 8-11 in. (20-28 cm).
Range: common summer breeder in the southern and central U.S. Rockies; rare migrant in the Canadian Rockies; rare winter resident in the southern U.S. Rockies.
Habitat: cattail marshes, croplands, shoreline vegetation and ranchlands up to the subalpine.
Nesting: loosely colonial in cattail marshes and shoreline shrubs; bulky, deep basket nest is usually woven into emergent vegetation over water and is made with wet vegetation, which tightens when dry; female incubates 3-5 eggs for 11-13 days.
Feeding: gleans the ground for seeds, beetles, snails, waterbugs and dragonflies; also probes into cattail heads for larval invertebrates.
Voice: strained, metallic grating that seems prolonged by the bird's unmusical efforts.
Similar Species: male is distinctive. Rusty Blackbird and Brewer's Blackbird: females lack the yellow throat and face.