My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Dickcissel, Spiza americana

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Dickcissel, Spiza americana

The Dickcissel is a small American seed-eating bird in the family Cardinalidae. It is the only member of the genus Spiza.

Dickcissels have a large pale bill, a yellow line over the eye, brownish upper parts with black streaks on the back, dark wings, a rust patch on the shoulder and light underparts. Adult males have a black throat patch, a yellow breast and grey cheeks and crown. This head and breast pattern is especially brilliant in the breeding plumage, making it resemble an Eastern Meadowlark. Females and juveniles are brownish on the cheeks and crown and are somewhat similar in appearance to House Sparrows, they have streaked flanks.

Their breeding habitat is fields in midwestern North America. They migrate in large flocks to southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. They may occur as vagrants well outside of their normal range.

Dickcissels forage on the ground or in fields. They mainly eat insects and seeds. Outside of the nesting season, they usually feed in flocks. They are considered a pest by farmers in some regions because flocks can consume large quantities of cultivated grains.

The birds migrate to their breeding range rather late, with the first arriving only in May, with most birds only arriving in early June. They nest near the ground in dense grasses or small shrubs, or up to 3–4 ft (91–120 cm) high in bushes and trees. Males may have up to six mates, with most attracting only one or two, and several failing to attract any mates at all. Yet if such “bachelors” survive until next summer, they will get another try to attract females, as the partners only stay together for raising one brood. Dickcissels are thus among the few songbirds that are truly polygynous. When they leave for winter quarters by early August or so, what little pair bond existed during the summer is broken up.

Dickcissel populations frequently fluctuate in numbers, even to the extent that their range changes notably. In the early 19th century, Dickcissels expanded eastward, establishing a population in New England and the mid-Atlantic states that disappeared around the end of the century. Both appearance and disappearance were probably related to changes in land use.

On to my photos:

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Juvenile Dickcissel

Juvenile Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Male Dickcissel

Female Dickcissel

Female Dickcissel

Female Dickcissel

Female Dickcissel

Female Dickcissel

Female Dickcissel

This is number 127 in my photo life list, only 223 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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7 responses

  1. gabbie20132013

    Reblogged this on Gabbie Blog.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:06 am

  2. It does remind me of a meadowlark. But I’m thinking that bib under the chin is similar to the flicker’s.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:21 am

    • You’re right, it does, thanks for pointing that out.

      October 9, 2013 at 2:37 am

  3. This bird must like poke berries. That’s pokeweed it’s sitting on in the last few photos.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:08 am

    • Well, that could be, I know that they at least like it to build their nests in. If you look closely at the bird in those photos, it’s a female with grasshoppers in her beak, taking them to her young in a nest just below where she’s perched in the photos.

      October 9, 2013 at 8:29 am

  4. Very nice photos of this sweet bird.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm

    • Thanks, but I can see the heat waves and the distortion that they caused.

      October 10, 2013 at 1:09 am