Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus

adult male
Brian E. Small/VIREO
Joe Fuhrman/VIREO
adult female
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
juvenile, heavy molt
Joe Fuhrman/VIREO


This is the common blackbird of open country in the West, often seen walking on the ground with short forward jerks of its head. It adapts well to habitats altered by humans, and in places it may walk about on suburban sidewalks or scavenge for crumbs around beachfront restaurants. In winter, Brewer's Blackbirds gather in large flocks, often with other blackbirds, and may be seen foraging in farmland all across the western and southern states.


Fields, prairies, farms, parks. Occurs in many kinds of open and semi-open country, including shrubby areas near water, streamside woods, aspen groves in mountain meadows, shores, farmland, irrigated or plowed fields. Often around human habitations, foraging on suburban lawns and in city parking lots.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and seeds, some berries. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, aphids, caterpillars, termites; also some spiders, snails, tiny crustaceans. Eats many seeds of grasses and weeds, plus much waste grain. Also eats berries, especially in summer.

Feeding Behavior

Walks on the ground as it searches for food. Sometimes wades in very shallow water. Sometimes catches insects in flight. May follow farm machinery in fields to feed on insects turned up by the plow. Except in nesting season, usually forages in flocks.


Often nests in loose colonies of up to 20-30 pairs. In courtship display (or sometimes in aggressive display), male points bill straight up or forward, fluffs out body feathers, and partly spreads wings and tail. Nest site is quite variable; usually in tree 20-40' above ground, but may be on ground among tall grass, in bushes, or in crevice in cliff. Nest (built by female) is a rather bulky open cup made of twigs, grass, weeds, and pine needles, lined with fine grass, rootlets, animal hair. Often has mud or dried manure added to base. Eggs: 4-6, sometimes 3-7. Pale gray to greenish gray, spotted with brown. Incubation is by female, 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 13-14 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.


4-6, sometimes 3-7. Pale gray to greenish gray, spotted with brown. Incubation is by female, 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 13-14 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.


Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 13-14 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.


Widespread and abundant. Expanded its range eastward in Great Lakes region during 20th century. In some areas, may be affected by competition with Common Grackle, increasing in the west.


Present all year in parts of West. Spreads eastward in fall, with winter range including much of Southeast. Migrates north relatively early in spring.


song & call #2
quit calls
song & call #1
chuck calls
group singing & calling

Similar Species


Gray Catbird

Rather plain but with lots of personality, the Gray Catbird often hides in the shrubbery, making an odd variety of musical and harsh sounds -- including the catlike mewing responsible for its name. At other times it moves about boldly in the open, jerking its long tail expressively. Most catbirds winter in the southern United States or the tropics, but a few linger far to the north if they have access to a reliable source of berries or a well-stocked bird feeder.

adult, breeding

European Starling

Often regarded as a pest, the Starling wins our grudging admiration for its adaptability, toughness, and seeming intelligence. Brought to North America in 1890, it has spread to occupy most of the continent, and is now abundant in many areas. Sociable at most seasons, Starlings may gather in immense flocks in fall and winter. When the flocks break up for the breeding season, males reveal a skill for mimicry, interrupting their wheezing and sputtering songs with perfect imitations of other birds.

adult male

Red-winged Blackbird

Among our most familiar birds, Red-wings seem to sing their nasal songs in every marsh and wet field from coast to coast. They are notably bold, and several will often attack a larger bird, such as a hawk or crow, that flies over their nesting area. The red shoulder patches of the male, hidden under body feathers much of the time, are brilliantly displayed when he is singing. Outside the nesting season, Red-wings sometimes roost in huge concentrations.

adult male

Tricolored Blackbird

While the Red-winged Blackbird is abundant over most of the continent, the very similar Tricolored Blackbird has a very small range in the Pacific states. It differs in its highly social nesting: in a dense cattail marsh, nests may be packed in close together, only a foot or two apart. Some colonies may have over 100,000 nests, although such large concentrations seem to be growing scarcer in recent years, as the birds shift to smaller (but hopefully more) colonies.

adult male, breeding

Rusty Blackbird

Birders might say that this blackbird is rusty because it spends so much time in the water. In migration and winter it is usually in swampy places, wading in very shallow water at the edges of wooded streams. In summer it retires to northern spruce bogs; no other blackbird has such a northerly breeding distribution. The name "Rusty" applies to the colors of fall birds, but it could also describe the rusty-hinge sound of the creaking song.

adult male, Eastern

Bronzed Cowbird

Larger than the Brown-headed Cowbird and mostly restricted to the Southwest, this species is another brood parasite. It may be more specialized in its choice of "hosts," and is thought to have seriously affected populations of some species, such as Hooded Orioles in southern Texas. The Bronzed Cowbird has expanded its range in our area during the last century; in Arizona, where it is now common, it was unrecorded before 1909.

adult male

Brown-headed Cowbird

Centuries ago this bird probably followed bison herds on the Great Plains, feeding on insects flushed from the grass by the grazers. Today it follows cattle, and occurs abundantly from coast to coast. Its spread has represented bad news for other songbirds: Cowbirds lay their eggs in nests of other birds. Heavy parasitism by cowbirds has pushed some species to the status of "endangered" and has probably hurt populations of some others.

adult male

Shiny Cowbird

Originally native to South America, this little blackbird spread gradually through the West Indies in recent decades, island-hopping north through the Lesser Antilles and then west toward Cuba. It arrived in Florida in 1985, and has become locally common there, with some seen elsewhere in the Southeast. Like other cowbirds, this species is a parasite, so its arrival in our area was not welcomed by conservationists.

adult male

Boat-tailed Grackle

Until the 1970s, this big blackbird was considered to be the same species as the Great-tailed Grackle, but the two forms overlap on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana without interbreeding. The Boat-tail is a more aquatic creature, nesting in marshes, scavenging on beaches. Except in Florida, it is seldom found far away from tidewater. Boat-tailed Grackles nest in noisy colonies, the males displaying conspicuously with much wing-fluttering and harsh repeated calls.

adult male

Great-tailed Grackle

Wherever it occurs, this big blackbird is impossible to overlook -- especially the male, with his great oversized tail and incredible variety of callnotes. In the southwest, flocks of Great-tailed Grackles feed in open country during the day, but often come into towns at night, forming noisy roosting aggregations in the trees in city parks. During recent decades, this species has greatly expanded its range within our area, and it is still spreading north in some areas.

adult male Coastal (Purple)

Common Grackle

Throughout the east and midwest, this big blackbird is a very familiar species on suburban lawns, striding about with deliberate steps as it searches for insects. Common Grackles often nest in small colonies, and several males may perch in adjacent treetops to sing their creaking, grating songs. Big flocks are often seen flying overhead in the evening, heading for major communal roosts, especially from late summer through winter.

adult male

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The male Yellow-headed Blackbird is impressive to see, but not to hear: it may have the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping. Yellow-heads nest in noisy colonies in big cattail marshes of the west and midwest; when not nesting, they gather in flocks in open fields, often with other blackbirds. At some favored points in the southwest in winter, they may be seen in flocks of thousands.


iPad Promo