Saffron-cowled blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus)

Also known as: Agelaius flavus
Spanish: Dragón, Mirlo Americano Pechiamarillo, Tordo Amarillo, Tordo de Cabeza Amarilla
GenusXanthopsar (1)
SizeLength: 18 cm (2)

The saffron-cowled blackbird is classified as Vulnerable (VU A2cde + 3cde; C2a(i)) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). In Denmark and Uruguay it is listed on Appendix III of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) but under the name Agelaius flavus (4).

The male of this species has strikingly contrasting bright yellow head, rump and underparts against its black nape, upperparts, tail, bill and legs. The female is less brilliantly coloured, with a streaky olive-brown crown and upperparts, and yellow rump, eyebrow and underparts. In both sexes a dark brown stripe runs from the bill to the eye. They sing a high-pitched song with a short trill, and call with a harsh ‘tchep’ (2).

The range of this blackbird is shrinking and it is now only locally abundant in south Brazil, east Paraguay, Uruguay and northeast Argentina (2).

Feeding on agro-pastoral land, the saffron-cowled blackbird breeds in dense marsh vegetation throughout its range (2).

This highly sociable bird feeds in groups, searching for arthropods amongst low vegetation. Nests may be built away from other monogamous pairs, or in colonies of up to 40 pairs (5). They are constructed in vegetation by the female who lays eggs between September and January. During incubation the male feeds himself and the female as well as defending the territory. Both parents contribute to feeding the young (2).

In 1999 the saffron-cowled blackbird was put into the genus Agelaius with similar Nearctic and Caribbean blackbirds. However, this decision has been widely refuted and as yet has been adopted only by the Convention on Migratory Species (6).

The grasslands in the range of this species are now used for grazing, agriculture, pine and eucalyptus plantations, and settlements. Combined with the damming of marshy valleys in Argentina, the available habitat of the saffron-cowled blackbird is declining sharply. Fire in Paraguay has destroyed whole colonies of nests and the decline in numbers of nesting birds has resulted in the natural brood parasitism by the shiny cowbird becoming a threat. This attractive bird is also threatened by capture for the pet trade (2).

The saffron-cowled blackbird is legally protected in Brazil and occurs in at least five protected areas throughout its range. As this species is very mobile, reserves prove inadequate at protecting it since they do not cover the whole area occupied by the birds. There has been an experimental reintroduction following rescue from the pet trade of seven birds, which was partially successful. Research into brood parasitism by shiny cowbirds may prove to be crucial in preventing this threat becoming further compounded. Fencing grazers out of traditional nesting sites is being considered (2). The Convention on Migratory Species is funding a project to estimate the dispersal range of this bird, as well as the amount of gene flow between populations (4).

For further information on the conservation of this species see the CMS Project:

For more information on the taxonomy of this species see the Louisiana Museum of Natural History:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)