There are 12 species of blackbirds in Montana, and we have pictures of seven of them (58.3%). Most have descriptive names such as the red-winged blackbird or the yellow-headed blackbird (or, as most of us know him, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus). Blackbirds are some of the most beautiful and interesting birds in Montana. For example, it would be hard to find a more opportunistic bird than the brown-headed cowbird (obviously named after the first person to identify them, Sven Brownhead). A breeding pair may produce three dozen offspring in a single year. How could they care for and feed such a number? Well, by…not. Instead, the female lays the fertilized eggs in the nests of other bird species who, apparently incapable of discrimination, feed and raise the young as their own. Or maybe they do know, maybe they just don’t hold the children accountable for the sins of the parents.
The remaining species of blackbirds we need are the Baltimore oriole, bobolink, brewer’s blackbird, northern oriole, and rusty blackbird. We better hurry in our quest for the rusty blackbird, as populations have declined by at least 85% since 1975 (and by some estimates as much as 99%) for unknown reasons. I’m guessing we humans had something to do with it.

**Update 10/25/16: Thanks to Mary Ann Cincotta for pointing out our misidentification of a Brewer's backbird as a common grackle. The mistake has been corrected below.

Bullock's oriole - Icterus bullockii

Orchard oriole - Icterus spurius

Yellow-headed blackbird - Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

Brewer's Blackbird - Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brown-headed cowbird - Molothrus ater

Western meadowlark - Sturnella neglecta

Red-winged blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus

Back to Top