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

Recent news about the Tricolored Blackbird

Thousands of Tricolored Blackbird nests at risk on dairy farms right now

Samantha Arthur shot this photo of a Tricolored Blackbird nesting colony in Fresno County yesterday. If we're going to save this species, we need to make sure that every colony is protected. Photo: Samantha Arthur

We just received word from the field from Samantha Arthur that our staff has identified about 35,000 to 45,000 Tricolored Blackbird nesting on dairy farms in Kern, Tulare, and Merced counties. Those numbers are likely to change a little as the nesting season continues, but it's important to understand that each and every one of these nests is in danger of being destroyed unless we're able to strike agreements with farmers to delay harvest until the chicks have fledged. Thankfully, we're better prepared for this possibility than ever before. We're working closely with the dairy industry and government agencies to identify nesting colonies and get them protected.

This work is difficult and is more important now than ever. Tricolored Blackbirds are in a steep decline, so every colony is vital to the survival of the species. The California Fish & Game Commission recently made it a candidate for listing under the state Endangered Species Act. Learn more about the species here.

Please consider making a donation to our Tricolored Blackbird campaign. Every dollar of your contribution goes into preserving a future for this important California bird.

More than 35,000 Tricolored Blackbirds found nesting in dairy fields, so far

Photo: Teddy Llovet/Flickr

Just got a message from Samantha Arthurs, who runs Audubon California's Tricolored Blackbird conservation efforts, that she and others have identified "35,000 to 45,000 Tricolors nesting on dairies right now in Kern, Tulare, and Merced counties." These nests are at risk of destruction if we're not able to work with our partners in the dairy industry and federal agencies to protect them. Learn more about our program and, if you can, make a donation to our Tricolored Blackbird campaign. This is a file photo -- we hope to have photos from the field today.

Meet the man uncovering the mystery of Tricolored Blackbird migration

Meet the man uncovering the mystery of Tricolored Blackbird migration

Audubon California staffers work tirelessly to save the Tricolored Blackbird, but we are not alone in our fight. Many others care deeply about this California bird. We collaborate with partners on the Tricolored Blackbird Working Group. Several members of this group come from the University of California, Davis, members like Marcel Holyoak.

Creating Tricolored Blackbird habitat at Kern River Preserve

Creating Tricolored Blackbird habitat at Kern River Preserve

Audubon chapters coming together to create a home for trikes.

Tricolored Blackbirds are Back!

Tricolored Blackbirds are Back!

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) California biologist Jesse Bahm recently spotted a forming colony of Tricolored Blackbirds in Fresno County.

Tricolored Blackbird forage reaches new heights in Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Ian Souza-Cole

Ian Souza-Cole, Audubon California's new field technician, standing in the forage field at Merced National Wildlife Refuge to show the height of the forage blend that was planted for Tricolored Blackbirds. This growth is a major improvement from last year and we hope it will attract nesting Tricolored Blackbirds.

California Fish and Game Commission should grant state endangered species listing to Tricolored Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird

California Fish and Game Commission should grant state endangered species listing to Tricolored Blackbird

Audubon California supports decision to protect rare bird, which has declined 44 percent since 2011

Thought we'd make a GIF of a Tricolored Blackbird colony. Just because.

Feds announce that they will consider the Tricolored Blackbird for ESA protection

Tricolored Blackbird. Photo: Martin Myers

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today announced that the Tricolored Blackbird is one of several species that it will formally consider for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Surveys last year indicate that the number of nearly-endemic species have dropped as much as 44 percent since 2011. The announcement from the Service begins a 60-day comment period, which will be followed by more in-depth consideration of the petition.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the petition to list the Tricolored Blackbird in February.

The decision to move the federal listing process forward tracks with a similar move at the state level. In June, the California Fish and Game Commission voted against advancing a petition to list the Tricolored Blackbird under the California Endangered Species Act. That petition was also filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, and Audubon California supported it in writing, through public testimony, and through its network of supporters.

Following the Fish and Game Commission decision, both the Center for Biological Diversity and Audubon California called for reconsideration, due to a number of issues with the process through which the body made its decision. The Center for Biological Diversity subsequently refiled its petition.

For the last several years, Audubon California has worked aggressively to protect Tricolored Blackbird nesting colonies in the Central Valley. In January, at the urging of Audubon California and other partners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service issued a $1.1 million grant to support a partnership including Audubon California, the dairy industry, and federal agencies to support Tricolored Blackbird conservation.

How you can help, right now