Yellow headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Passeriformes Icteridae Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

[order] Passeriformes | [family] Icteridae | [latin] Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus | [UK] Yellow-headed Blackbird | [FR] Carouge à tête jaune | [DE] Brillenstärling | [ES] Turpial de Cabeza Amarilla | [IT] Ittero testagialla | [NL] Geelkoptroepiaal

Physical charateristics

Male noticeably larger than Blackbird but female somewhat smaller; form differs in deep-based, long, pointed bill, stockier body, and looser tail. Large, lengthy, but also stocky Nearctic icterid; very dark plumage with yellow foreparts; adult male black with yellow hood and mainly white carpal patches. Female dusky with yellow face and breast and mottled belly.

wingspan min.: 38 cm wingspan max.: 45 cm
size min.: 24 cm size max.: 27 cm
incubation min.: 10 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 12 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 5  


Breeds in western half of North America from central British Columbia, northern Alberta, and south-west Ontario south to southern California, New Mexico, Kansas, and Wisconsin.
Accidental. Iceland: adult male, July 1983; Denmark: Kerteminde (Fyn), October 1918. Records from Britain, France, Norway, and Sweden regarded as probably referring to escapes from captivity.

Listen to the sound of Yellow-headed Blackbird

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto


Breeds in temperate Nearctic lowlands, favouring deep marshes fringing lakes and shallow river impoundments, where there are stands of cattail, bulrush, or reed. Forages in meadows and marshes, occasionally on grainfields and freshly ploughed land.

Foraging habits

Adults specialize in aquatic invertebrate food during the breeding season, but consume primarily cultivated grains and weed seeds during the postbreeding period.

copyright Don DesJardin

Breeding habits

Adult males arrive about one to two weeks before adult females and begin forming territories shortly thereafter. Males are polygynous and generally have 1 – 6 females in a harem, and females select breeding sites within the male’s defended territory. The overwater nests are built entirely by the female, usually in water between 0.6 and 1.2 meter deep. Nests are constructed of water-soaked aquatic vegetation interwoven with standing dead or growing emergent vegetation. The nest is a deep cup built of long
stems and blades of wet partly decayed grasses woven around supporting stems to form a tight cup, lined with dead leaves of plants, coarse grasses, roots, and decayed plant material, and firmly packed with an inner lining of narrow leaves, leaf strips, or fine grasses. Clutch size is typically 3 – 5, but most often 4 eggs and rarely 5. Incubation is by the female alone and usually lasts 10 – 13 days. The young are altricial and brooded by the female exclusively. Females feed young at the nest, while males will assist in feeding after the young are about four days old. The young are fed invertebrates, primarily emergent aquatic insects (Twedt and Crawford 1995). Young leave the nest unable to fly at 9 – 12 days and remain among the emergent vegetation until flight is attained by about 20


This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 4,700,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 23,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. (source


Migrant, winter range (from southern USA south to southern Mexico) overlapping with extreme south of breeding range. Movements mainly through inland areas in both seasons; stragglers appear regularly in east coast areas August-October, with most in September. Vagrant to Greenland, and recorded at sea in Atlantic Ocean c. 480 km north-east of New York city.

Distribution map breeding season

Yellow-headed Blackbird range map summer


Title Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbird Nesting Habitat in a Wisconsin Marsh
Abstract: Competitive interactions between Red-winged (Agela..[more]..
Source: J. of Field Ornithology, Vol. 54,no. 3

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Title American Coot kills Yellow-headed Blackbird nestlings
Author(s): PETER L. HURD
Abstract: I know of only one witnessed predation event by an..[more]..
Source: Wilson Bull., 104(3), 1992, pp. 552-553

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Title Nestling Diets of Red-Winged and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds on Playa Lakes of West Texas
Author(s): David H. Fischer and Eric G. Bolen
Abstract: Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and ye..[more]..
Source: Department of Range and WildlifeManagement, Texas Tech University Lubbock, Texas

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Title Yellow-headed Blackbird account
Author(s): Studies of Western Birds 1:444-450, 2008
Abstract: Currently considered a Bird Species of Special Con..[more]..
Source: Shuford, W. D., and Gardali, T

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