The Tricolored Blackbird is North America's most colonial landbird. Found almost exclusively in California, its breeding colonies can teem with up to 25,000 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 numerous. Since then, the population has declined from several million to approximately 145,000 today. Over just the last 6 years, the Tricolored Blackbird population has decreased by 44%.
The reasons for this decline are many, but the loss of marsh and nearby foraging habitats along the coast and in the Central Valley is the main issue. In more recent years, the species has become dependent on agricultural lands, with most of the largest colonies nesting in wheat 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. In some cases as many as 20,000 nests have been lost in a single field.
Each year, they gather in highly social colonies for breeding throughout the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley, Sierra Foothills, Central Coast, and Southern California. With Tricolored Blackbirds recently listed under California's Endangered Species Act, recovery of this species is more critical than ever.
Farms and ranches will play a critical role in conserving Tricolored Blackbirds across 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.
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.
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.
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.
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