Tricolored Blackbird

Agelaius tricolor
Range Map

Other than a few vagrants and some populations in Baja California, this is truly a California specialty, save for a few birds that inch into Oregon in the Klamath Basin. There was a time (1950s) when Tricolored Blackbirds lived in overwhelming numbers in San Diego County. Now only a few small pockets of colonies survive in the county. When the dairy industry thrived in San Diego County in the early to mid-twentieth century, so did these birds. But when land prices escalated, and the demands on the land from a burgeoning human population pushed out the dairies, it robbed these birds of the prime real estate they’d been depending on.

Modern science views the Tricolored Blackbird as monotypic (no subspecies recognised).

I have a fond memory of the day in 2004 when I toured San Diego County looking for Tricolored Blackbird nesting sites with scientists Bill Hamilton and Phil Unitt. In the miles between sites, riding in the back of Bill’s car, I found entertainment and education in the discussions between these two men. The approach to the work they loved differed outwardly. While Bill leaned more to activism, Phil was more comfortable as a pure researcher. Yet clearly, they shared a mutual respect for each other and the work they brought with them. In 2006, we lost Bill Hamilton to lymphoma, and the birds lost a champion.

Until my marathon expedition through North America in 2022, all the images I collected of this species were from San Diego County, though I once got eyes on them in an agricultural field in the Klamath Valley near the California-Oregon border. In March 2022, as I drove north along the California coastline, I enjoyed a long and intimate encounter with them in Crescent City, near the harbor’s lighthouse.


26 Photos

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