Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

A Dickcissel in Our Backyard! June 1, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 9:09 am
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Dickcissels are small birds usually found in tallgrass prairies and unplowed farm fields. (As my friend Jane reminded me, “The character Laura in the book Little House on the Prairie watches Dickcissels flit in the tallgrass.”)

So this morning I was quite surprised to find one feeding in the brushy corner of our pocket-sized backyard in south Oak Park, Illinois! With their yellow-and-black breasts and stripy brown backs, Dickcissils look like miniature Meadowlarks:

The balck and yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the neck identify this as an adult male Dickcissel.

The back-and-yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the head and neck identify this bird as a male Dickcissel.

However, our Sibley Guide groups Dickcissels with the tanagers, grosbeaks, and cardinals. Sibley also says that Dickcissels sometimes hang with House Sparrows, as this one was today. In fact, when they turn away, Dickcissel backs look a lot like House Sparrow backs:

The Dickcissel back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back, but the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

The Dickcissel's back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back. However, the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

I guess it pays to look at every bird that visits your yard — you never know what will show up! It also pays to have a brush pile in your yard, however small. (Ethan repaired our brush pile earlier this spring.)


Note added at about noon the same day:

I checked the eBird website to see where Dickcissels have been seen in our county. The closest location to us is Miller Meadow, a few miles west of here, where they have been seen in June and July the past two years. I wonder if they have nested there, since the habitat seems appropriate? (See this Illinois Birders’ Forum post for more information about Miller Meadow and nearby locations.)

And wouldn’t it be cool if this male Dickcissel found his way to the meadow habitats in Columbus Park, less than a mile east of our yard?

Note added 2 p.m. the same day:

Jill Anderson, who monitors Miller Meadow for eBird, just posted a report on IBET. She said she stopped by Miller Meadow today and saw a male Dickcissel — the first one she’s seen there this year. She also confirmed that Dickcissels have nested there the past few years.

Note added a week later: On Saturday, June 6, we made our first to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, south of Joliet, Illinois. The place was packed with singing Dickcissels, especially near the Explosives Road Trailhead! (See this map. Midewin used to be part of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant.)

We hope our backyard Dickcissel found a place like Midewin to spend the summer.


To learn more about Dickcissels, please visit these websites:

All About Birds: For a basic description of this species, with photos and song recordings, go here.

Wikipedia: For an encyclopedia-style entry, go here.

Dickcissel Conservation in Venezuela: Because they migrate to South America during our winter, protecting this species is an international issue. Go here to read more.


3 Responses to “A Dickcissel in Our Backyard!”

  1. Dave Says:

    Very cool! Three cheers for the brush pile : )

  2. Nicole Says:

    This is the perfect example of migration. These beautiful birds are moving farther and farther east! How lucky for us!

  3. A beautiful bird. Everyone should have a brush pile in their backyard.

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