Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus


The Yellow-headed Blackbird is a large marsh dwelling icterid found primarily in the North American West, although breeding east at least to Ontario, in Canada. Males are robust birds with black bodies and vivid yellow heads, outlining a black mask. Males also show a white wing patch in flight. The females are much smaller and brownish but show a contrasting yellowish head, whiter on the throat. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are more migratory than other northern marsh nesting blackbirds, and moves south well into Mexico and northern Central America; records do exist farther south to Costa Rica and Panama. Males during the breeding season are highly polygynous. They vigorously defend a territory and females carve out sub-territories for themselves within the male’s realm. Curiously molecular work has determined that the Yellow-headed Blackbird is related to the meadowlark group, not to the clade of blackbirds the other marsh-nesting icterids belong to. So much of its plumage, behavior, and song similarities with the non-related group of marsh nesting blackbirds is strictly convergence! The song of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, if it can be termed that is an awful sounding raspy whine. There are actually two slightly different song types, one given with a symmetrical display, the other with a display where the head is twisted to one side.

Help complete this species

There are many ways to contribute—we need species information, photographs, audio, video, translations, maps, distribution data, and bird sightings. There's a role for everyone!

Learn more

© William W. H. Gunn

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: