Yellow-headed BlackbirdXanthocephalus xanthocephalus

adult male
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult female
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Greg Lasley/VIREO
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird


8-11" (20-28 cm). Robin-sized. Male much larger than female. Male is bright yellow on head, neck and upper breast, blackish elsewhere, with conspicuous white markings on wings. Female duller and lighter; yellow on chest, throat, and face; no white wing marks.


Harsh, incessant oka-wee-wee and kruck calls, coming from many individuals in a colony, blend into a loud, wavering chorus.


quipt call
complex outburst
songs #3
kuduk call
raspy female calls
juvenile trills (small flock)


Freshwater marshes.


Breeds from central British Columbia, northern Alberta, and Wisconsin south to southern California, northern New Mexico, and Illinois. Winters mainly in Southwest and Mexico.


In spring, visiting a Yellow-headed Blackbird colony in a marsh or slough is an exciting experience. The surrounding water provides safety but often limits the nesting habitat; crowding is thus inevitable. Some males are always in display flight, with head stooped, feet and tail drooped, wings beating in a slow, accentuated way. Some quarrel with neighbors over boundaries while others fly out to feed. Approaching predators are mobbed by clouds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and neighboring Red-wings, which nest in the drier stands of cattails.


3-5 brown-speckled whitish eggs in a basket woven around several strong stalks. Nests in colonies.

Similar Species

adult, breeding

European Starling

7 1/2-8 1/2" (19-22 cm). Smaller than a robin. A short-tailed, chunky, iridescent black bird; long pointed bill, yellow in summer and dark in fall and early winter.

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Red-winged Blackbird

7-9 1/2" (18-24 cm). Smaller than a robin. Male is black with bright red shoulder patches. Female and young are heavily streaked with dusky brown. See Tricolored Blackbird.

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Brewer's Blackbird

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Boat-tailed Grackle

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Great-tailed Grackle

Male, 16-17" (41-43 cm); female, 12-13" (30-33 cm). Tail very long and keel-shaped. Male black, with iridescent purple on back and breast. Female smaller, brown with a pale breast.

adult male Coastal (Purple)

Common Grackle

12" (30 cm). Jay-sized. Long, wedge-shaped tail displaying a longitudinal ridge or keel when in flight.


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