Saving the Tricolored Blackbird

The rare Tricolored Blackbird needs our help to survive.

This rare bird needs our help to survive. Photo: Photo by Martin Meyers

The Tricolored Blackbird is a remarkable bird that needs our help to survive. Found almost exclusively in California, its breeding colonies often teem with more than 50,000 birds, sometimes all settled into a single 10-acre field or wetland to raise their young. While similar to the more widespread Red-winged Blackbird, the Tricolored Blackbird is distinguished by its red shoulder patch with a bright white bar.

In the 19th Century, Tricolored Blackbird flocks were described as so numerous “as to darken the sky.” Since then, the population has declined from several million to fewer than 150,000 today. Over just the last 70 years, the Tricolored Blackbird population has decreased by more than 80%.

The reasons for this decline are many, but the loss of marsh and nearby feeding habitats along the coast and in southern California and the Central Valley is the main issue. With the loss of native habitat, the species has become dependent on agricultural lands, with most of the largest colonies nesting in grain fields. A real dilemma develops because Tricolored young typically have not yet left the nest before the time farmers harvest their crop, and harvesting destroys Tricolored Blackbird nests and young.

Collaborative Conservation

Audubon California is working closely with landowners and its partners in the Tricolored Blackbird Working Group to protect this species across California. The Tricolored Blackbird Working Group is a collaborative alliance of farmers, agricultural associations, governmental agencies, and environmental organizations that have all recognized the importance of a multi-faceted and cooperative approach to promote the long-term persistence of the Tricolored Blackbird. The Working Group strives to reverse the population decline of this species, and increase the population to more than 750,000 over the next 20 years.

The efforts of the Working Group are guided by the Tricolored Blackbird Conservation Plan that lays out a strategy to boost populations through long-term conservation planning and short-term action-oriented intervention. Specifically, the Plan commits stakeholders to implement: (1) habitat conservation projects to benefit the species; (2) a research program to more thoroughly understand the species’ life history; (3) a monitoring program to effectively document population trends and distribution; and (4) an outreach and education program to enhance public and private landowner awareness, and to build public support for conservation.

Audubon California recently took on the role of coordinating the working group’s efforts. For more information about these efforts or how you can help, please contact Tricolored Blackbird Conservation Project Manager Samantha Arthur at sarthur@audubon.org.

Recent news about the Tricolored Blackbird

Making Farmland Work for Wildlife

Photo: Elizabeth Herman

Audubon's new story series "What's a Stake" takes a look at conservation programs threatened by federal budget cuts and environmental policy rollbacks.  The series highlights Audubon California's Conservation Program Director, Samantha Arthur, and her work with dairy farmers to protect Tricolored Blackbird colonies, which is funded by a federal program proposed for elimination.  

Check out this great story here.

Learn more about our Working Lands Program and efforts to protect  theTricolored Blackbird here.

Nearly 75,000 Tricolored Blackbirds protected in 2017
Press Center

Nearly 75,000 Tricolored Blackbirds protected in 2017

— Celebrating the five year partnership between farmers and conservationists that allows Tricolored blackbirds nesting on farms sufficient time to fledge their young

Update from the 2017 Tricolored Blackbird breeding season

Audubon California's Samantha Arthur gives an update about our efforts to conserve rare Tricolored Blackbirds during the 2017 breeding season. Big thanks to everyone who has helped us on this important work. Learn more about our work.

USFWS writes about Tricolored Blackbird conservation

Tricolored Blackbird banding. Photo: Veronica Davison/USFWS

Our friends at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service just posted a great article and photo series about Tricolored Blackbird conservation. They've been doing some banding to learn more about this rare mostly-Caliornia bird.

Tricolored Blackbirds in Riverside

Tricolored Blackbirds were once quite common in Southern California, but a number of factors have led to their near disappearance from the region. This colony at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area is one of the few exceptions. This video was shot by Rose Cook in early May, and it's great to see and hear the birds in the field of Curly dock (Rumex crispus).

Learn more about our efforts to save these birds here: http://ca.audubon.org/birds-0/tricolored-blackbirds

Scouting for Tricolored Blackbirds near Folsom. Not that we need to remind you, but California can be a pretty spectacular place sometimes. Check out this amazing sky over our team scouting for Tricolored Blackbird nests yesterday near Folsom. And we did find some of the rare birds.

Update on Tricolored Blackbird breeding - May 2, 2017

Audubon California's Samantha Arthurs gives a quick update on this seasons Tricolored Blackbird breeding.

Update from a new Tricolored Blackbird colony in Sacramento County

Audubon California field technician Bill Abbott shows a colony of Tricolored Blackbirds in Sacramento County.

Audubon California's Samantha Arthur took this photo of Tricolored Blackbird chicks in a nest in Tulare County. With a declinging species like this, every chick is incredibly valuable. Learn how we're working to protect this rare species, and how you can help.

Tricolored Blackbirds in Sacramento County

Our own Samantha Arthur caught video of this large colony of about 3,000 Tricolored Blackbirds in Sacramento County over the past weekend. These birds are in a patch of blackberry off I-50, and the birds fly over the highway to forage in the foothill grasslands. Right now the birds are nest building and breeding. The males are singing and the colony is very active. Soon they will quiet down and incubate eggs.

Our staff is out in the field with a variety of partners looking to protect Tricolored Blackbird colonies.

We'd greatly appreciate your help.

How you can help, right now