• Male
  • Male. Note: dark red lesser coverts and white median coverts.
  • Female

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Tricolored Blackbird

Agelaius tricolor
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This New World family of medium and large songbirds is very familiar, as most species are common inhabitants in human-altered settings. Many are partly to entirely black, often with iridescence or bright markings of some sort. Most blackbird species form flocks at certain times of the year, and many form multispecies flocks. Blackbirds live in open habitats and eat seeds, grain, and insects. They often forage in agricultural areas, where they can be considered pests. These birds generally forage on the ground where they are well adapted for a behavior called gaping. They insert their long, slender bills into the ground, and then open their bills to get at underground insects. Blackbirds also use this technique to get into fruits and some insects, and to reach insects that are cocooned inside wrapped leaves. Most build open-cup nests in trees, shrubs, or on the ground. Many members of this family are polygynous. Females generally build the nests and incubate the eggs, and males help feed the young.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

The Tricolored Blackbird looks much like its near relative, the Red-winged Blackbird. The glossy-black male’s shoulder patch is a deeper red and is bordered in white rather than yellow, while the female is dark blackish-brown, not reddish-brown. It nests in various types of wetland habitats, forming dense breeding colonies that may relocate from one year to the next if local conditions change.

The arrival and establishment of Tricolored Blackbird in Washington is a story that is still unfolding. There had been no prior state records, even of isolated wandering birds, when a nesting colony was discovered near the town of Wilson Creek (Grant County) in July 1998. This colony has persisted ever since, although the birds depart for points unknown after breeding. Beginning in spring 1999 and continuing every year since then good numbers of Tricolored Blackbirds have been observed outside the breeding season (September–May, peak February–April) at ponds near Othello (Adams County), but there are almost no summer records from this location. Another large assembly was first found near Texas Lake (Whitman County) in May 2002; breeding was confirmed there in 2005. Beginning in 2000, birds have also been observed at an increasing number of other locations in Adams, Douglas, Grant, Klickitat, Lincoln, Spokane, and Walla Walla counties, usually of just one or a few birds at a time. The only records west of the Cascades have occurred sporadically in the Vancouver Lowlands (Clark County) during late fall and winter, always of small numbers of Tricoloreds mixed with flocks of other blackbirds. The earliest of these was from November 2000.

The historic breeding range of Tricolored Blackbird is the Central Valley of California, extending south into northern Baja California and north into the Klamath Basin of south central Oregon. Pushing northward over the past century, it has nested in several places not far from the Columbia River boundary with Washington, mostly east of the Cascades but also in the Willamette Valley as far north as Portland. Most Oregon birds are believed to move south to California for the winter, although some remain, especially in the Klamath Valley.

Revised November 2007

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest Coast
Puget Trough
North Cascades
West Cascades
East Cascades
Canadian Rockies
Blue Mountains
Columbia PlateauUUUUUUUUUUUU

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Red List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern