Birds

Tricolored Blackbird

Saving the iconic Tricolored Blackbird of the Central Valley.
Photo: James Scott
Photo: James Scott
Birds

Tricolored Blackbird

Saving the iconic Tricolored Blackbird of the Central Valley.

The Tricolored Blackbird is North America's most colonial nesting landbird. Found almost exclusively in California, a single breeding colony can teem with over 35,000 birds, sometimes all settled into a single field or small wetland to raise their young. While similar to the more widespread Red-winged Blackbird, the male Tricolored Blackbird is distinguished by its red shoulder patch with a bright white wing-bar.

In the 19th century, Tricolored Blackbird flocks were described as numerous and often consisted of hundreds of thousands of birds. Since then, the population has declined from several million to approximately 177,000 today. Over a 10-year period from 2007 to 2016, it is estimated the population declined by as much as 34%.

There are many reasons for this decline. But the loss of native wetland 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 grain fields. A real dilemma develops as Tricolored Blackbird young typically have not yet left the nest before the time farmers need to harvest their crop, and harvesting destroys Tricolored Blackbird nests and young. In some cases, tens of thousands of nests have been lost in a single field.

Each year, these birds gather in highly social colonies to raise their young throughout the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley, Sierra Foothills, Central Coast, and Southern California. However, with the continuing loss of habitat and the places they need to survive are becoming scarcer. As a result of this continued habitat loss and drastic population decline, Tricolored Blackbirds were recently listed under California's Endangered Species Act thus highlighting the recovery of this species is more critical than ever.

Audubon California's Xerónimo Castañeda shows us a great Tricolored Blackbird colony in the Central Valley.

How Private Landowners Can Save Tricolored Blackbirds
Tricolored Blackbird

How Private Landowners Can Save Tricolored Blackbirds

Farms and ranches will play a critical role in conserving Tricolored Blackbirds across the Central Valley.

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Farmers Play Key Role in Protecting Tricolored Blackbirds
Tricolored Blackbird

Farmers Play Key Role in Protecting Tricolored Blackbirds

Watch this video by Audubon's partner Dairy Cares in the Central Valley

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Collaborative Conservation
Tricolored Blackbird

Collaborative Conservation

We work closely with landowners and partners in the Tricolored Blackbird Working Group to protect the Tricolored Blackbird across California.

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Victory! 170,000 Tricolored Blackbirds saved in 2021
Tricolored Blackbird

Victory! 170,000 Tricolored Blackbirds saved in 2021

Thanks to our agricultural partners,100% of thirteen Tricolored Blackbird colonies across the San Joaquin Valley in California were protected this year.

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We did it! 177,000 Tricolored Blackbirds Saved in 2020
Working Lands

We did it! 177,000 Tricolored Blackbirds Saved in 2020

In the sixth year of the Audubon Summer Conservation Program, we worked closely with dairy producers to protect 100% of the known 15 Tricolored Blackbird colonies on agricultural fields across four counties.

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SUCCESS! 178,500 Tricolored Blackbirds Saved in 2019
Tricolored Blackbird

Success! 178,500 Tricolored Blackbirds Saved in 2019

This spring, 90% of colonies thrived in the Central Valley

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Latest News

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.

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.

How you can help, right now