Dickcissel Bird Facts – Nesting, Mating Rituals, and Range

Dickcissels, also known by its scientific name Spiza Americana, is a North American songbird that spends its breeding season in the open plains and fields in the midwest in croplands in places such as Kansas or Missouri. 

Dickcissels are aggressive North American birds that spend their summers in the open plains of the midwest. After their breeding season, these migratory birds pack up in large flocks (in the millions) and head to South America (especially Venezuela) for their wintering grounds. One thing is sure- you don’t want to mess with the territory of an aggressive male Dickcissel!

They are about the size of a house sparrow with a yellow breast, a black bib, and cinnamon brown wing bars. They look like a cross between a sparrow and a finch, but their unique personalities and aggressive territorial behaviors make them stand out from other Passeriformes. Despite its sparrow-like appearance, the dickcissel is a part of the Cardinalidae, similar to a Northern cardinal or grosbeak.

Origin of the Name – Dickcissel

Dickcissel, pronounced duhk·si·sl, got its name from its unique song. During mating season, the male dickcissel perches on a nearby tree branch. It emits a dick-dick-ciss-cissel song to attract a mate and protect their territory from potential predators and other songbirds. If you walk too close to a dickcissel, be prepared for a buzzy and aggressive song!

Dickcissel Appearance

Dickcissel Appearance

The dickcissel songbird looks like a cross between a house sparrow and a finch. They measure 6 inches long, have a wingspan of 10 inches, and weigh just .9 ounces. Males have bright yellow accents on their chest and eyes, while females have a much more muted coloring when compared to males. They have a white belly, a black V-shaped bib on their neck, and a black and brown pattern on their wing bars. The best way to spot a dickcissel is to note the bright yellow marks on their chest that make them stand out from similar small birds.

Dickcissels Mating Rituals

During the breeding season, dickcissels migrate to the open plains of Missouri in North America. Their breeding range includes most of the midwest and goes as far north as Canada. Male dickcissels aren’t monogamous birds and mate with more than one female during the breeding season.

Once a male dickcissel finds a mate, he takes an active role in foraging for food with the female and selecting an excellent nesting location. Once the nest-building process has begun, the male does not help raise nestlings. Once the female dickcissels lays her eggs, the male works to fiercely defend his closely-guarded territory and attract another mate.

Dickcissels Songbird Nest and Eggs

Dickcissels nest close to the ground, hidden by brush and weeds, but sometimes they nest in small trees up to 10 feet off the ground. Dickcissel nests are shallow cups made from grasses and weeds with a lining sometimes made from animal hair or other soft materials. A female Dickcissel lays between three to six eggs per clutch and raises only one to two broods per season.

Unlike other songbirds such as buntings or meadowlarks, the male dickcissel doesn’t take an active role in raising the young. To attract a mate, the breeding male dickcissel with the nicest territory often wins over female birds. Instead of lending a hand raising his young, he spends more time defending his territory from other Dickcissels.

Do Dickcissels Migrate?

Do Dickcissels Migrate?

These breeding birds spend the summer months in the plains of North America but head to northern South America once the temperatures start to plummet. During the breeding season, dickcissels are solitary birds that gather in millions of flocks when traveling to South America. In early spring, these long-distant migrants arrive on the plains and collect in large flocks in the late summer. Once the communities gather, they begin their migration to South America and typically arrive in their wintering grounds around mid-October.

What Does The Dickcissel Eat?

Dickcissels eat both seeds and bugs, but they eat more insects such as grasshoppers and caterpillars, during the breeding season when they are more abundant. Dickcissels are ground-foraging birds and can sometimes be spotted around the base of bird-feeders foraging for extra seeds. In the winter months. Dickcissels switch to a diet of primary seeds such as alfalfa, clover, and other local crops.

Where Can I Spot a Dickcissel?

If you want to track down the – always on the move Dickcissel, they are primarily found in hayfields, croplands, weedy fields, and other open spaces. These open-range birds don’t spend much time in forests and make their home in wide open spaces. To spot a Dickcissel, you can attract them to your backyard if you live in the open plains of the midwest. Since Dickcissels are ground-foraging birds, throw a little extra cracked corn or sunflower seeds on the ground and a good clean birdbath to draw them to your backyard.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer that loves her backyard birdfeeders. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee, watching cardinals, blue jays, finches, and chickadees munch away at her backyard offerings. Her fascination with birds began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma's house watching and identifying birds. She has since carried her love of songbirds into adulthood and ensures no bird in her yard goes hungry!

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