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For Immediate Use                                                                                               Contact: Alison Sheehey, (760) 378-2531
February 19, 2009                                                                                                              

Tricolored Blackbirds (Agelaius tricolor) Breed Successfully

Fish & Game and Audubon lands protect critical habitat

Weldon, CA - Land protected in the South Fork Valley by Audubon and the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) is home to several new flocks of nesting Tricolored Blackbirds. These colonial nesters have declined dramatically in the last few years and although they have no special protection they are listed by CDFG as a Species of Special Concern.

Last year's drought caused many colonies throughout the state to fail as well as the flocks in the Kern River Valley. "Last year was a tough year for species, but this year looks a lot better," exclaimed Reed Tollefson, Manager of Audubon's Kern River Preserve.

This year nesting birds have been found along the irrigation ditch at the entrance to the Kern River Preserve, CDFG Sprague Ranch addition to Canebrake Ecological Reserve, along Barlow Road in Lake Isabella and at the Bob Powers Gateway Heritage Preserve. Bob Barnes (Arthur & Sydney Barnes Foundation), Reed Tollefson (KRP), and Carlie Henneman (Southern Sierra Research Station) conducted surveys around the Kern Valley in late April. At that time up to 70 pairs were found in Lake Isabella and at the Kern River Preserve respectively while up to 75 pair were found at Canebrake Ecological Reserve. Just recently Reed Tollefson saw several hundred individuals in the CDFG field behind the Southern Sierra Research Station on Fay Ranch Road and Alison Sheehey found at least 150 young being fed by their parents at the Bob Powers Gateway Preserve.

Scott Yoo, Manager of the Canebrake Ecological Reserve said recently, "I am really encouraged by the presence of the new Tricolored Blackbird colonies. I believe the birds are nesting there because of the cooperative stewardship that Canebrake Ecological Reserve and Kern River Preserve share in managing the Sprague Ranch and Kern River Preserve units for the benefit of these, and other Species of Concern."

"Canebrake Ecological Reserve has a contingent of volunteers from the local area, as well as from Southern and Central California, who have helped restore native riparian and marshland plants in a cooperative effort with Audubon California," said Yoo. "I appreciate the strong and generous support given by Kern River Preserve employees, who have pioneered many of the restoration efforts used with riparian systems. We will continue our strong partnership in efforts to restore the South Fork Kern River forest.”

Audubon is looking at doing a habitat enhancement project prior to the 2009 nesting season. There is an area on the west side of Fay Ranch Road that looks to be suitable. "I think with what we are learning about this species we are going to be able to create new nesting habitat on the Kern River Preserve next year," said Tollefson. "I think these birds rely heavily on neighboring ranches and irrigated pasture as foraging habitat." Recent conservation easements on working ranches assures they will remain good neighbors for species such as Tricolored Blackbirds.



  • Among the Audubon Watchlist of most imperiled species is the Tricolored Blackbird, with over 95% of its world population in California. Audubon California is actively engaged in conservation efforts to protect this species. Until recently, some colonies were estimated to contain one to two million birds; today the total population is down to about 750,000, due to the draining of marshes.

    This year Audubon California's Landowner Stewardship Program  coordinated the 2008 statewide survey for Tricolored Blackbirds in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This citizen-based, statewide survey provided critical information for determining the status of Tricolored Blackbird populations in California and will help future conservation strategies to protect this species.

    See for information on this and other citizen science efforts.

  • Audubon California protects largest Tricolored Blackbird colony in world


    Family: Icteridae, Blackbirds and Orioles

    Description: 7 1/2-9" (19-23 cm). Males are a medium-sized black bird with broad white/red band on the wing epaulet. Red-winged Blackbird looks very similar but has yellow/red epaulet. Female is darker than the brownish-dusky female Red-winged Blackbird and lacks streaks on rump and belly.

    Habitat: Cattail marshes, marshy meadows, and rangelands.

    Food: Grasshoppers are an important food source in late summer; in winter rice fields and marshes grain and insects provide food.

    Nesting: 3 or 4 greenish eggs, covered with brown scrawls, in a nest woven onto reed stems or blackberry brambles. It is more colonial than the Red-winged Blackbird, and its territories are crowded, with nests often less than 5 or 6' (1 1/2-2 m) apart.

    Range: Breeds from southern Oregon southward throughout most of California. Winters north to northern California.

    Voice: Calls sound like Red-winged Blackbird being strangled. Sounds like a nasal talking rather than a song.

Nestlings wait for momma to return with caterpillars and snakeflies

Momma obliges

Tricolored Blackbirds need grassland and marshes

Notice the white patch next to the red on the wing epaulets

Map courtesy Patuxent Info Center. Photos courtesy Alison Sheehey ©


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