U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Banding Boosts Tricolored Blackbird Conservation

May 31, 2017

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Photo of an adult femail tricolored blackbird
Adult female tricolored blackbirds have sooty brown-black feathers with distinct grayish streaks, a relatively white chin and throat, and a smaller reddish shoulder-patch. Photo credit: Catrina Martin, USFWS.
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Photo of a tricolored blackbird with a band on it's leg
Banding tricolored blackbirds provides insights into monitor migration patterns. Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.
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Photo of male tricolored blackbird
Adult male tricolored blackbirds are typically larger than females, and are black with bright red and white feathers on the wing shoulder. Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.
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Photo of tricolored blackbirds breeding colony
Breeding colonies require a nearby source of water, suitable nesting areas; and natural grassland, woodland, or agricultural croplands where the birds can forage. Photo credit: James Scott.
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Photo of male tricolored blackbird with it's wings spread
The male tricolored blackbird's distinct red and white feathers on its shoulders make it fairly easy to recognize. Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.
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Photo of tricolored blackbird
Tricolored blackbirds have been found in California, Nevada, and Oregon. Photo credit: Veronica Davison, USFWS.
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Photo of close up of a tricolored blackbird
The Central Valley and surrounding foothills of California are home to over 99 percent of the tricolored blackbird populations. Photo credit: James Scott.

California is home to many species that are nearly exclusive to the "Golden State." One species to hold this honor is the tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor). While this red, black, and white bird had a population estimated in the millions during the 19th Century, today there are fewer than 150,000.

The tricolored blackbird is a social bird that lives and breeds in colonies that can number in the tens of thousands. They nest in California’s Central Valley from March to July. The state’s natural wetlands served as habitat in the past, but with much of California’s wetland habitat lost to development, the tricolored blackbird now depends heavily on agricultural lands.

Early conservation work preserves management options and minimizes the cost of recovery. In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) released a conservation plan for the tricolored blackbird. Developed in collaboration with a variety of government, public and private organizations, the conservation plan promotes and facilitates cooperative efforts to ensure the long-term persistence of the species. Since the release of the plan, habitat conservation projects, research, species monitoring, and outreach and education have been key in helping the species persist, educating the public, and public and private landowners, as well as improving our understanding of the species.

The Service has also implemented tricolored blackbird banding, where small metal bands are affixed to the bird’s leg. Each band has a unique numeric code the Service uses to monitor migration patterns. This is just one example of a variety of proactive efforts the Service and others are leading to address the conservation needs of this species, which has been petitioned for listing under the state and federal Endangered Species Acts.

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by Veronica Davison / SFWO External Affairs

Last updated: October 22, 2019