In grasslands of the central U.S., birds called Dickcissels sing a quirky song that “spells out” the syllables of their name. Dickcissels are approachable birds, often chirping away while a person walks nearby. But they’re also masters of concealment, hiding their nests from predators in tufts of grass and leafy wildflowers. Dickcissel populations have fallen by 30 percent since the 1960s. Yet the birds persist in searching for places to breed — nesting along roadsides, in pastures, and even in alfalfa fields.
Written by Conor Gearin
This is BirdNote.
Along a country road in Kansas on a summer morning, there are birds on the fence line singing an odd song.
[Dickcissel song, ML 50228, 0:16-0:17]
Half insect, half sci-fi blaster, this song belongs to a bird called the Dickcissel, whose name spells out the syllables of its quirky song.
[Dickcissel song, ML 50228, 0:24-0:25]
Like other birds in the cardinal family, Dickcissels have large, triangular beaks. But otherwise, they have a unique appearance, with yellow breasts, brown wings, and males sporting a black patch on their throats.
Dickcissels are approachable birds, often chirping away while a person walks nearby. But they’re also masters of concealment.
Dickcissels usually make their nests near the ground. They use leafy wildflowers and grass tufts to hide their eggs from the many creatures hunting for them — snakes, ground squirrels and raccoons, to name a few.
[Dickcissel calls, ML 94392, 0:22-0:23]
Dickcissel populations have fallen by 30 percent since the 1960s. They’ve lost many of their breeding habitats and are treated as agricultural pests on their wintering grounds in Venezuela. Yet the birds persist in searching for places to breed — nesting along roadsides, in pastures, and even in alfalfa fields.
If you’re in the central U.S. this summer, look and listen for this emblem of grassland habitats.
[Dickcissel song, ML 76767, 0:26-0:27]
For BirdNote, I’m Ariana Remmel.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Dickcissel ML 50228 recorded by G. Keller, Dickcissel ML94392 recorded by H. Hershberger, and Dickcissel ML 76767 recorded by C. Marantz.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote June 2022 Narrator: Ariana Remmel
ID# DICK-01-2022-06-21 DICK-01