My New Book


Dickcissel Invasion

Holy cow there are a lot of dickcissels in my neck fo the woods this year. Last year on my surveys I had one dickcissel pair, this year, I’m practically tripping over them. They are by far the most abundant bird outside of red-winged blackbirds on those same survey routes.

One of my final duties at the park service was a banding program with Avian Images (and for those who missed it, one of my freelance clients hired me full time and I’m now an Avian Field Ecologist with Westwood Professional Services). The banding program was at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and we even found a breeding pair of dickcissel there.

The birds have been noticed here in Minnesota and Wisconsin and a challenge has been issued to try and document them in every county. Checking out dickcissel information online, this is par for the course for this species on the outer edges of its breeding range. According to Birds of North America Online:

“…this species is notorious for regular seasonal movements within its primary breeding range and for irregular movements outside of this core range to breed in surrounding areas where extensive grassland habitat exists. These erratic, semi-nomadic movements result in dramatic year-to-year changes in distribution and abundance, especially in peripheral and sporadically occupied areas.”

And Minnesota and Wisconsin definitely fall on the outer edges of the dickcissel range.

I can’t help but wonder how an influx of dickcissel works with other species. Do they drive out bobolink and frustrate savannah sparrows?

I did some more poking around on Birds of North America Online and if you don’t have a subscription, you should really consider it somtime and read up on your favorite birds.  You never know what little gems you will find in there.  Some of my favorites about dickcissel on BNA include:

“Nothing remarkable about defecation.”


“Dickcissels show resource-defense polygyny (Zimmerman 1966b), as do a few other grassland species (Verner and Willson 1966). Polygyny in Dickcissels is not based on a skewed sex ratio, but on spatial heterogeneity in grassland habitat, such that some males hold territories of higher quality and attract more mates than others.”

As if the name dickcissel weren’t provocative enough.  I wonder if anyone has tried to use the above as an excuse for infidelity? “Really, honey, it meant nothing.  It was just a little resource-defense polygyny, nothing more.  You know how great of property we have? How could I say no?”

11 comments to Dickcissel Invasion

  • Patrick B.

    We’ve had a small, but noticeable influx here in NJ.

  • Wait, a Dickcissel invasion in Wisconsin??? Holy cow, I have actually never seen a Dickcissel. Now to see where they’ve been seen in my area! To eBird!

  • mthgordon

    “It’s not like we’re doing anything useful with that extra bedroom. I don’t see why you mind so much.”

  • This is the first summer I’ve seen them, and suddenly there they were. We go regularly to a prairie remnant in Goodhue County where we are monitoring some bluebird boxes, and it’s been a pleasure to see and hear them every week there since early June. Thanks for the info on the irregular patterns of distribution.

    Congrats on the new job!

  • Jim in St. Paul

    I was out in Murray County, MN last weekend doing BBA surveys and we actually got sick of counting them! There was literally one every 50 to 100 ft or so along the roads! Crazy. Never seen such a thing before with them. Plenty of Bobolinks and a fair assortment of sparrows. Not too many Meadowlarks around though.

  • Did you ever think that there would be a time when you’d be sick of dickcissel? Man, if we turned them into a drinking game, we’d be plastered in 10 minutes on the birding trail.

  • Tim H.

    An update to the WI initiative, I believe we’re only three counties away from a Dickcissel slam of eBirding them from all 72 counties. Menomonee Cty will be the toughy as it’s nearly all forested.

  • Tim H.

    Wisconsin is down to one county in which a Dickcissel has not been eBirded – Menomonee County. The eBird team is offering a small reward to the first person who enters a valid Dickcissel sighting from that county.

  • Laurie V

    I live in Hugo and walk along Frenchman close to Oneka Pkwy and after listening to their song online and capturing one in pictures I know they are out in the grassy fields. First time spotting them ever. Have been in Hugo since 2008. Same walks early in the morning I have seen Osprey catch dinner in the pond by the same intersection.

  • Tim H.

    We did it! Wisconsin has found, and eBirded, a Dickcissel in all 72 counties in the state!

  • How cool to suddenly have that funny sparrowish, Old World Bunting-like bird become one of the most common species on the block. We get them migrating through Costa Rica but they arent seen that often despite the fact that large numbers winter in Venezuela.