Wednesday 22 May
Dickcissel (Spiza americana)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Dickcissel fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
The sparrow-like dickcissel (Spiza americana) is one of North America’s most abundant breeding birds (2) (3). It is a relatively small songbird, with a stout, pointed bill, light-grey belly and a brown back which is streaked with black (2) (3).
The male dickcissel is larger than the female and has a streaked, greyish head and a black, V-shaped throat patch which contrasts with the bright yellow of its breast feathers (2) (3). Both sexes have a yellow stripe over the eye and blackish wing and tail feathers (3). Immature dickcissels are generally similar in appearance to the adult female, but have much duller plumage (2).
The song of the dickcissel can commonly be heard during the summer months in its prairie grassland breeding grounds (2). It has a simple, dry song that usually consists of two introductory notes followed by a brief pause, then five or six main notes (2) (3). The simple song is then repeated rapidly, in succession (2).Top
The dickcissel is omnivorous and, during the summer breeding months, feeds on a range of seeds and invertebrates (2) (3). Seeds are either foraged for on the ground or plucked directly from the plant whilst perched on a plant stem. The outer covering of the seed is then removed before being eaten (2). On migration and during the winter, the dickcissel is highly gregarious and forms flocks, some of which are so large they may contain between 10 and 30 percent of the global population. During this time the dickcissel is described as being ‘granivorous’ as its diet consists mainly of seeds, often from food crops (2).
The breeding season for the dickcissel varies depending on location, but usually begins in May or June. The male dickcissel will defend a territory that contains both suitable nesting and foraging areas, and will vigorously chase away any intruding males (2). Males with territories containing the best nest sites will attract more females (2).
The female alone is responsible for selecting the nest site, building the nest and then brooding and raising the young. The dickcissel’s nest is usually placed slightly above the ground, in dense vegetation, and consists of a bulky cup woven out of weed and grass stems (2) (3). A clutch of 3 to 6 pale blue eggs is laid and is incubated for around 12 to 13 days. The young dickcissels are fed on a variety of invertebrates and leave the nest at around eight to ten days old (2).Top
During the breeding season, the dickcissel can be found in central North America, ranging as far north as Minnesota and North Dakota, and south to Texas and South Louisiana. From east to west it ranges from the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, west as far as Colorado (2).
The dickcissel migrates south in large numbers to overwinter, with its winter range extending from western Mexico to northern parts of South America (4).Top
The preferred habitat of the dickcissel is open grassland such as prairies or lightly grazed pasture lands (3). It is also found in overgrown, weedy fields and roadside vegetation and utilises wetlands and marshes during its migration (2) (3) (4).Top
The dickcissel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Although numerous and widespread, the dickcissel faces a number of threats throughout its range (2) (4). It is particularly persecuted in its wintering grounds in Venezuela, where large flocks are illegally poisoned in order to protect food crops (2) (4). One farmer is reported to have killed over a million birds in this manner (2). The dickcissel is also hunted and eaten by people using guns, slingshots or even cars driven through roosting flocks (2).
The dickcissel is also potentially vulnerable to alterations to its summer breeding habitat, with native grasslands being converted into rows of crops and thus reducing the nesting habitat available (2).Top
Currently, the only specific conservation measure aimed at the dickcissel is the proposed control of the illegal killing of large flocks in Venezuela (2). By encouraging farmers to protect their crops with non-lethal methods, it is hoped that the future of the dickcissel will remain secure (2).Top
Find out more
Find out more about the dickcissel:
BirdLife International - Dickcissel:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Dickcissel:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Feeding on both plants and animals.
- An extensive area of flat or rolling, predominantly treeless grassland, especially the large tract or plain of central North America.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
Temple, S.A. (2002) Dickcissel (Spiza americana). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Dickcissel, Spiza americana (September, 2011)
BirdLife International (September, 2011)
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.