Saturday, June 5, 2010


On my way to Nertrand Big Woods on Thursday, I stopped the car and listened for meadowlarks.  Instead I heard a very nearby Dickcissel, a bird that looks superficially like a meadowlark, singing from a roadside bush.  In his Audubon Land Bird Guide (1949) Richard Pough described the call as a repeated "dick, dick, dick, dickcissel...with the number of dicks and cissels varying."  Click here for the call and see what you think.

In my youth I read that the Dickcissel is the Jekyll and Hyde Bird because, while in North America Dickcissels eat mainly insects, in Venezuela (where most winter), they consume almost entirely rice and sorghum.  I have seen video clips of thousands of Dickcissels dripping like African locusts from Venezuelan sorghum.  This behavior does not amuse Venezuelan farmers and may be one reason for the Dickcissel's historic population decline.

Back in the USA, Dickcissels are polygamous prairie birds.  Females pick their mates by the quality of the males' territories, as measured by the availability of nesting sites (rather than food resources).  Males have been known to have up to six mates. On a yearly basis, Dickcissels tend to be nomadic, and therefore their numbers fluctuate annually.  One year they are abundant, the next they are absent.
The photo at the top of this entry was taken Thursday near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park; the lower photo was taken some time ago near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Much of the information in this post comes from Temple, Stanley A. 2002. Dickcissel (Spiza americana), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dan a qwik second try at comment @ 3:45pm
    Sat. Good work on the blog and thanks a million for all your help!