Yellow-headed Blackbirds – Friday Photos

Female Yellow-headed Blackbird on Curly DockFemale Yellow-headed Blackbird on Curly Dock – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) have begun to show up in large numbers in my area of the country. I’m seeing them perched on Cattails, Phragmites and in flight.  The freshwater marshes that surround the Great Salt Lake provide excellent breeding grounds for this species.

Female Yellow-headed Blackbirds are brown and have yellowish throats and facial patches. I photographed the female above perched on Curly Dock at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on the last trip I made to Utah before permanently moving here.

Yellow-headed Blackbird male displayingYellow-headed Blackbird male displaying – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yellow-headed Blackbird males are black with white primary coverts and have yellow heads, chests and throats. They are easily identifiable and unmistakable. I photographed this displaying male above at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge.

The males are a challenge to expose properly in photographs because of the high contrast between the yellows, blacks and whites. I generally expose for the darks and hope I don’t blow out the white primary coverts if they are shown.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds have a very mechanical sounding call, it can be heard here.



  1. Julie Brown April 3, 2012 at 4:55 am

    The males are very striking in their plumage and behavior, but the female is good-looking too!

    • Mia McPherson April 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      I agree Julie, the females are good looking too.

  2. Susan March 30, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Wow, what beautiful birds, have never seen them, but I hear that they do reside near here. Wonderful post Mia, thanks for sharing.

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Susan, I hope that you get to see and photograph some Yellow-headed Blackbirds too. They are far more beautiful in person. Thank you.

  3. Sheila Atwood March 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I agree with Karen, these are awesome shots. I do like the contrast of colors. We walk next to a marshy area near our house and have the pleasure of the Yellow-headed Blackbird’s company.

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      Sheila, thanks for your comment on my images. I’m glad you have the pleasure of Yellow-headed Blackbirds for company on your marsh walks.

  4. Scott March 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    One of my favorite marsh birds. I like the wing shot of the male. Beautiful shots as always, Mia.

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Thank you for your wonderful comment on my images Scott.

  5. Bob Zeller March 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Great shots, Mia. I am especially partial to the image of the Male. Gorgeous!

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Yes Bob, that male is a stunner! Thank you.

  6. Julie G. March 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I always enjoy visiting your outstanding blog because you feature so many birds I don’t have the chance to see here in the Midwest … your photographs are spectacular, too!

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you Julie, I love seeing your blog because you get to see birds that I don’t out here! Thank you for your kind words on my work.

  7. Beverly Everson March 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Beautiful!!! Your work is inspiring, Mia!

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Thank you so much Beverly.

  8. Mathew March 30, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Incidentally, I observed these for the first time, outside of captivity, just four days ago. However, I was already well familiar with their sounds, which are very remarkable and not avian. I would not have thought that what I had been hearing was a yellow-headed blackbird. The fact that they hide in marshes and reeds may account for their need to make such a raucous, as do many other aquatic birds. They congregate closely together, and up to 25 nests have been counted in an area of 15 sq. ft. Another impressive song from the Icteridae is the Western Meadowlark.

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Hi Matthew, thanks for visiting my blog and for your comment. Aren’t Yellow-headed Blackbirds fascinating, especially their calls? I didn’t know that so many of them would nest so close together. That is amazing.

  9. Carol Mattingly March 30, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Mia, you have so many birds out west I don’t have here. It’s amazing the difference. I had actually never heard of a yellow headed blackbird. I listened to its song and wow it’s raspy. Love these images. So glad I found your blog. Carol

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Carol, I’m very glad to have found your blog too. We do have some fascinating birds out west. Thank you.

  10. Linda Rockwell March 30, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Glorious photos Mia! I love these beautiful birds!

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Thank you Linda, you are very kind.

  11. Karen Bonsell March 30, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Awesome shots Mia! Very beautiful birds! I got one shot, (not to great mind you) of a small flock of them when we were at Antelope Island State park back in late August. I didn’t even know that was what they were until I downloaded them on my computer and zoomed in! They zipped by so fast! We stopped by there for a couple of hours on our way to Yellowstone from Vegas! I would love to visit again for a longer amount of time! I saw birds I had never seen before!

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Karen, I hope you get to visit this area again soon while the Yellow-headed Blackbirds are here in large numbers. Another great place to se them besides Antelope Island is Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. You should visit it too if you come back out this way.

  12. judy watson March 30, 2012 at 6:31 am

    Great pics! They are so pretty.

    • Mia McPherson March 31, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Thanks Judy, I agree they are so pretty.

Comments are closed.