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Yellow-headed Blackbird, a New Record

Yellow-headed blackbird

Dyke Marsh has had another first this spring, 2020 -- several sightings of a yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus). In fact, it is a record for the George Washington Memorial Parkway according to Brent Steury, the Parkway’s Natural Resources Program Manager.

The beautiful blackbird in Dyke Marsh is a male with a stunning yellow head, black body, yellow breast and white markings on its wings. Females and immature males are brown-black with reduced yellow on the face, throat and brow. These birds typically nest in the West and Midwest in colonies, often alongside red-winged blackbirds in bullrushes or cattails. They forage on insects, grain and wet seeds.

The males have a loud harmonic song that is diagnostic, which they use to defend territories. “It may have the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping,” says Kenn Kaufman in the Lives of North American Birds. The bird at Dyke Marsh has been vocalizing intermittently. Vagrant yellow-headed blackbirds occasionally appear in Northern Virginia in the late fall through winter. The last known one close to Dyke Marsh was near Veterans Park in Woodbridge.   The online range map for this bird on Cornell University’s All about Birds does not show them in Virginia in any season. Visit the website here.

Photos contributed by Ed Eder

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