Blackbirds and Orioles: The Icterids
Neotropical migrants, they winter in the warmer latitudes around the equator and migrate north for breeding season. Approximately one fifth or twenty of the one hundred icterid species inhabit North American territory during part of the year.
Common Icterid physical traits run superficial, at best. Most are adaptable birds, fond of residential that provide adequate food, water and shelter.
Their diets span the basic insects, seeds and fruit spectrum.
Types of Birds
Icterids range in color from the predominantly black and dark feathered blackbirds and grackles, to the brightly feathered orioles.
Icterids also tend to prefer different and breeding areas. Orioles, for example, generally prefer forest habitats, while blackbirds generally prefer wetlands and marsh habitats.
The song of the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) greets residents of the central and western grasslands each spring.
Their colorful appearance and cheerful songs inspired residents of six states, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming, to designate it as the official state bird.
Males and females look similar, both having a yellow feathers across the breast marked with a dark "V" patch.
Meadowlarks are ground nesters. Males secure a territory, and both participate in rearing the young.
Because their diet consists mostly of insect pests such as caterpillars and grasshoppers, farmers welcome their presence.
Cowbirds receive most attention for being brood parasites. Pairs move about their range during breeding season with females laying eggs in host nests.
Most cowbirds migrate short to medium distances between winter resting and summer breeding grounds.
Blackbirds, opportunistic feeders. In residential areas, they will peck at bread crumbs left for other species. They also consume insects and seeds.
Red-winged blackbirds, the most common member of the Icterid family, also rank as one of the most common birds in the United States.
Males are easily identified by their black feathers, highlighted by a splash of red in the wings. Females have brown feathers and streaks on the breast.
It seems natural for sparks to fly when you mix one of the most abundant, grain loving, bird species into a country that produces one of the most abundant grain harvests world-wide.
Sure enough, over the past decade, various agriculture interests have called for a variety of red-winged blackbird management policies, including mass baiting and poisoning, to protect their grain fields. The mass poisoning proposal was not implemented and population research management continues.
Yellow-headed blackbirds, common Midwest and Western residents, breed in marsh areas and migrate to the Southwest or Mexico for winter.
With the exception of New England and the north east, the Brewer's Blackbird range extends across all of North America.
Northern breeding grounds extend to Canada and Alaska. Winter resting grounds extend south to Texas and Louisiana.
The male's dark feathers cast a purple sheen in the sun. Female feathers take on a more muted brown color.
Their diet varies with habitat. In residential areas, for example, they often forage for discarded human food, including fast food. In open spaces, they consume native plants, insects, fruits and seeds.
Large roosting flocks who diet on seeds and fruits are considered a nuisance in agriculture areas.
Three grackle species, Common grackle, Boat-tailed grackle and Great-tailed Grackle lay claim to different regions of North America.
The Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), the largest and arguably the most vocal, occupies western territory, south through Texas, Mexico and Central America.
In many areas of the Mid-west and Texas they are year round residents.
Common grackles and Boat-tailed grackles share some overlapping territory on the East Coast.
© 2005-2012 Patricia A. Michaels