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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
How you can help, right now
Get Audubon in Your Inbox
Audubon California Newsletter comes to your inbox monthly with breaking news and important conservation updates from our state.