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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Listing of Tri-Colorerd Blackbird Found Not Warranted Under ESA

Region 8, December 5, 2006
Tri-colored blackbird.(USFWS Photo)
Tri-colored blackbird.(USFWS Photo) - Photo Credit: n/a

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that a petition to add the tricolored blackbird, a North American songbird, to the federal list of threatened and endangered species does not present substantial information to warrant protecting the bird under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).


The Service made this determination in response to a petition received in 2004 to list the blackbird as a threatened or endangered species.  Under the ESA, the Service is required to review the petition to decide whether it contains substantial scientific information that warrants listing.


The tricolored blackbird is a medium-sized bird, 7-9 inches long, mostly a glistening black but with distinctive red and white stripes on their wings. The blackbird’s numbers have increased from 154,000 in 2000, to 260,000 in 2005, according to surveys by the Service and experts on the species.  About 95 percent of the birds live in California, mostly in the Central Valley.  They have been found in 46 counties. In addition, several colonies live in Oregon, Washington, Baja California and Nevada.


The blackbird’s natural habitat has declined over time as Central Valley marshlands, its preferred nesting habitat, have been drained or converted for other uses.  As available natural marshlands declined, blackbirds adapted to a changing environment.  Currently, about half the blackbirds nest in remaining cattail marshlands and half nest in silage crops grown to support California’s dairies.  However, silage crops often are harvested before blackbird chicks fledge, which can cause nesting failures.


Since 1993, the Service has been working with states, environmental groups, farm interests and other partners to increase tricolored blackbird populations and is currently working to develop a conservation strategy in advance of an ESA listing action.  The Service has been working with dairy operators to protect blackbird nesting colonies in silage crops and purchasing silage crops where large flocks of blackbirds are nesting that year.  The silage is allowed to stand until the birds depart, reducing its value as cattle feed, but saving the chicks.  The Service is also restoring blackbird habitat on private lands and several National Wildlife Refuges, supporting research and monitoring efforts, and promoting educational efforts to help landowners understand how they can help protect blackbirds.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 546 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.




Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov