Skip to main content

See also:

California drought affects declining birds like the tricolored blackbird

Tricolored blackbirds visit Lake Murray in 2012.
Tricolored blackbirds visit Lake Murray in 2012.
Darlene Luckins

While California did get some rain recently, the state is still in an extended drought. This drought not only affects people, but animals as well. As natural water resources dry up, birds that rely on them for nesting move elsewhere. Some of these birds move on to farmland which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of these birds are insect eaters and can keep the insect population down. But, they often start nesting right around harvest time. Farmers will likely be trying to harvest their crops as early as possible to get the best prices this year.

The tricolored blackbird is one of those birds that have moved from wetter areas to those farmlands to breed. These blackbirds look a lot like red-winged blackbirds, but instead of a yellow stripe on their wings next to the red, they have a white stripe and males are more glossy. They are frequently seen here in San Diego, mostly while migrating in the spring and fall. Mostly, they reside and breed in the Central Valley where wetlands have been greatly diminished in the last hundred years.

This species has been in decline for the last 8-10 years. They normally prefer to nest around reed beds above water. Since many of those locations have dried up during the drought, they’ve been nesting in wheat fields, often in the tens of thousands. Groups and organizations such as the Audubon Society have worked hard and spent a lot of money negotiating with farmers to delay their harvest until after the birds fledge. Tricolored blackbirds have also been hit by nest predation by grackles, which have increased their range, and increasing urbanization. And, since they appear in such large flocks, many people don’t know that they are in trouble. If they decline much further, they may have to be placed on the endangered species list.

In San Diego, these birds often are seen feeding together with red-winged blackbirds, mostly near where there is water and sufficient hiding places. They can also be seen around farms and open fields depending on how much water is available nearby. Places where they have recently been seen include Lake Murray and Lindo Lake.