Bird of Month August

The yellow-headed blackbird has one of the more unusual songs of the summer.

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It’s August, on a hot, sunny day, you find yourself out boating at Moses Lake, the Potholes, or any of the various marsh areas around here. It’s a quiet morning near a shore filled with tule grass and cat-tails, and suddenly you hear a strange, deep creaking sound.

Was that a very old, sick bullfrog, or the soft rasping of a chain saw that won’t quite start? You’re hearing the very unusual “song” of a yellow-headed blackbird, one that he produces with much apparent effort.

This bird is not too common in our valley, but you will find them wherever a good patch of tules and cattails are present, as this is their preferred home.

The yellow-headed blackbird male is a striking fellow, with a bright yellow head and chest, a black body and a large white patch on the wing. His mate is a fairly uniform brown color, with some creamy yellow on the chest. They are larger than their more common cousins, the red-winged blackbirds.

Even though both of these birds like wetland habitats, the yellow-headed blackbird is much more specific to places with cattails and deeper water, and will aggressively work to keep the red-wings out of these preferred areas. Their nest is woven grass, fastened to reeds of tule grass or cattail above the water, and they produce 3-5 greenish-white eggs blotched with brown. Food is a mixture of insects and various seeds.

Even though the yellow-heads are picky about their habitat during nesting, all of this is forgotten when they migrate south for the winter, often to protected wetland draws of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Once there, they freely congregate in large groups with their cousins the red-wings, as well as with other marsh birds and another close relation, the Meadowlark.

To learn more about our birds of Kittitas County, check out the Audubon website at KittitasAudubon.org, or meetings, which are held on the third Thursday of every month except summer. We are starting up again in September, and all are invited on at 7 p.m., Thursday.

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