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 180,000 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

Cool Tricolored Blackbird colony in the Central Valley

Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda shows off a great Tricolored Blackbird colony in the Central Valley. Learn more about our work to protect this great species here.

Sights and sounds of the search for Tricolored Blackbird colonies

Our own Xerónimo Castañeda captured these shots from the road during his recent searches through the Central Valley looking for Tricolored Blackbirds. Learn more about our work to save Tricolored Blackbirds here.

Marking off a Tricolored Blackbird colony in Merced County

Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda takes us up close to a Tricolored Blackbird colony in Merced County. In just a couple of weeks, the number of colonies in the southern part of the Central Valley has spiked. And all these colonies need to be protected.

Tricolored Blackbird breeding ramping up fast
Tricolored Blackbird

Tricolored Blackbird breeding ramping up fast

More colonies, more nests.

Tricolored Blackbird breeding season is off and running

Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda talks about the beginning of the 2019 Tricolored Blackbird breeding season. He even talks about finding his first found colony of the season. This is an important time for the Tricolored Blackbird, as it is now listed as Threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. That said, we still need to identify the colonies and do everything we can to protect them. Learn more about our efforts to save this terrific bird here.

Tricolored Blackbird gets new protections in fight to stave off extinction
Audublog

Tricolored Blackbird gets new protections in fight to stave off extinction

— California Fish and Game Commission adds struggling bird to state endangered species list.
California Fish and Game Commission to weigh designating Tricolored Blackbird an endangered species
Tricolored Blackbird

California Fish and Game Commission to weigh designating Tricolored Blackbird an endangered species

— Audubon California supports effort to protect rare bird, which has declined 55 percent since 2008.
Tricolored Blackbird nesting season is off and running
Tricolored Blackbird

Tricolored Blackbird nesting season is off and running

Audubon California is joining effort to protect this rare bird both in the field and through policy

Tricolored Blackbird breeding season is underway

Tricolored Blackbirds have begun nesting and our biologists are out in the field making sure these rare birds have a chance to survive. Field Technician Kim Sawyer shot this short video at BLM's Atwell Island just a few days ago. If you would like to help us save this great California birds, please consider making a donation.

State officials recommend endangered species protections for Tricolored Blackbird
Audublog

State officials recommend endangered species protections for Tricolored Blackbird

Fish and Game Commission is likely to decide by April whether to list the rare bird under the California Endangered Species Act.

How you can help, right now