Friday, 10 April 2015

B.O.T.D. Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

In a Wyoming marsh a burly blackbird hitches himself to a bulrush stalk, his golden hood glistening in the sun. Slowly, deliberately, he fans his glossy tail. With the eyes of his intended upon him, he opens his wings in a dramatic gesture of appeal. Then, bowing low, till his golden crown is nearly flush with his tail, he opens his mouth and emits the nastiest sound ever heard from a bird's mouth.

Even the most generous critics concede that as a vocalist, the yellow-headed blackbird is unmusical - and a few might agree with W. L. Dawson, who described the song as "a wail of despairing agony which would do credit to a dying catamount." It seems that no one who has written about this bird of marshes and reedy lakes can resist commenting on the disparity between its spectacular courtship display and its horrific, croaking voice.

Yellow-heads nest in colonies, some quite large. They favour deeper water than the smaller red-winged blackbirds, and where the two birds occur together, the red-wings are shunted to the shallower marshland edge. Deep water is a deterrent to such predators as raccoons and skunks, while colony life is a defence against marauding hawks and crows. Any harrier that approaches a colony to closely must soon contend with an angry black and yellow crowd of birds. It is a wise hawk that retreats before it is put to rout.

Cornell Lab: Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Reader's Digest: Birds of North America