Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Until this month, I'd never seen a dickcissel. What a beautiful little bird! Very like a meadowlark but considerably smaller (about 6 inches long), they are washed with yellow on the breast and in a streak over the eye, have chestnut wings and a bluish bill, and the mature male has a prominent black V on its chest (first-year males look more like females).

Male dickcissel

The yellow is more brilliant in the male, but the female has a lovely, soft yellow cast to her. The flash of yellow, the chestnut wings and the black markings on the male all help distinguish these birds from the varied sparrows that are also common in grassy areas. Meadowlarks are noticeably larger (7.5 to 10 inches long), have a longer, thinner bill, and the yellow extends all the way down their bellies.

Female dickcissel

Dickcissels are grassland, seed-eating birds that breed in the Midwest and congregate in huge groups in migration and their tropical wintering grounds, where they may be regarded as agricultural pests. They nest close to the ground in shrubs, saplings or grassy clumps. Learn more about dickcissels at the All About Birds site.

We've been seeing dickcissels since early June at the McKnight Prairie, northeast of Northfield in Goodhue County, and have heard they've also been seen recently at grassy areas in the Carleton Arboretum and other nearby locations. Wikipedia notes that they arrive fairly late at their breeding grounds, with most arriving only in early June. Given the date, then, the photo above is most likely a female rather than a first-year male. We have been going to McKnight regularly for several weeks, and the dickcissel's arrival was unmistakable on our June 3 visit, due to its loud, distinctive song that we certainly had not heard earlier. On June 3 we were only sure of one individual. On June 13 we saw and heard several; they seemed the most prominent bird of the day.

Male dickcissel

Male dickcissel singing

Here is a short clip of a dickcissel singing:


Linda said...

Nice blog. Thank you for sharing the sound this bird makes. I absolutely love nature. Greetings from Montreal, Canada. P.S. I agree with you on the spammers, which is why I also have my blog on comment moderation.

Penelopedia said...

Thanks, Linda!