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SAVING THE TRICOLORED BLACKBIRD

The tricolored blackbird forms the largest colonies of any North American land bird, often with breeding groups of tens of thousands of individuals. In the 19th century, some colonies contained more than a million birds — enough to make one observer exclaim over flocks darkening the sky “for some distance by their masses.” But because a small number of colonies may contain most of the population, human impacts can have devastating results. Over the past 70 years, destruction of the tricolor’s marsh and grassland homes has reduced its populations to a small fraction of their former enormity.

While its big breeding colonies make the species seem abundant to casual observers, the blackbird’s gregarious nesting behavior renders these colonies vulnerable to large-scale failures. In agricultural habitat, the birds experience huge losses of reproductive effort to crop-harvesting; every year, thousands of nests in dairy silage fields — where grass is being fermented and preserved for fodder — are lost to mowing. In what little remains of California’s native emergent-marsh habitat, tricolors are vulnerable to high levels of predation. The species has been in decline ever since widespread land conversion took hold in California.

But while the threats to the tricolor continue, so does the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to protect it. The Center submitted a listing petition in 2004, but it was ignored for more than two years, even after we sued the Service to remind it of its obligations. Finally, in late 2006, the agency completed its review of the listing petition — only to declare it inadequate in showing the bird’s need for federal protection. The tricolored blackbird was given no Endangered Species Act status at all, not even the weak position of a candidate species. The Center continues to advocate for the protection of both the bird and its habitat.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2004 Federal listing petition

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

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NATURAL HISTORY

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Search our newsroom for the tricolored blackbird

RELATED ISSUES
Golden State Biodiversity Initiative
The Endangered Species Act

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Contact: Lisa Belenky
Photo courtesy USFWS