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We have a new species addition to the BFS Bird List — the Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus), which was spotted by Dr. Paul Stapp’s class on September 29. The brilliant yellow head makes identification of this blackbird easy, and its loud, rusty-hinge call is also quite distinctive.

A Yellow-Headed Blackbird photographed at the Salton Sea. Photo by Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds occur throughout the US west of the Mississippi River, where they breed in marshes in the northern part of their range and migrate to Mexico and the southwestern US in winter. In California, Yellow-headed Blackbirds have historically bred mainly in the Central Valley and Northeastern California with a few scattered breeding sites in the southern part of the state. Since the 1950s, more breeding sites have appeared in southern California, including the Salton Sink (where the photo above was taken), and marshes in the desert created by development. Yellow-headed Blackbirds often nest and migrate with other blackbirds, and the one spotted at the BFS was in a migrating flock of Red-winged Blackbirds

Habitat loss threatens California’s Yellow-headed Blackbird populations, which have declined in some of their traditional breeding areas, and the Yellow-headed Blackbird is a California Species of Special Concern.

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