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Songbirds of North Dakota

Meadowlarks, Orioles, and Blackbirds

Family Icteridae

Members of the family Icteridae are known as troupials, meaning they have the habit of gathering into large flocks or troupes. Birds which are members of this family include the blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, and the bobolink. This family is remarkedly diverse since they all have a wide range of colors, size, and habits. Birds of this family which can be seen in North Dakota include the bobolink, yellow-headed blackbird, red-winged blackbird, Brewer's blackbird, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, western meadowlark, orchard oriole, northern oriole, and scarlet tanager.

Western Meadowlark
Sturnella neglecta

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The western meadowlark, our state bird, is commonly seen in open prairie and agricultural areas. It is easily recognized by its yellow breast, black V-shaped breast band, and characteristic song. The western meadowlark is mainly a ground dweller and searches for its food on the ground. Insects make up the majority of its diet, but it will also eat oats, wheat, and barley.

The female usually builds her nest on dry ground and is often domed and built against a dense clump of grass or weeds. The eggs are white-pink and speckled with brown and lavender. The female will usually raise two broods per season.

Northern Oriole
Icterus galbula

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The northern oriole is a popular bird among the public and has a professional baseball team named after it. The northern oriole was once considered two separate species; the Baltimore oriole in the east and the Bullock's oriole in the west. The female differs in color from the male in that she is olive-gray above and a pale yellow below.

The northern oriole often feeds on caterpillars, sawfly larvae, and fruit. The northern oriole is also fond of nectar and can be attracted to one's backyard by putting up a nectar feeder and/or a suet feeder.

Nests are constructed of fibers and grasses weaved by the female. The nest is a small pouch that hangs from a drooping branch 30-90 feet high in a tree. The breeding season occurs from May to June and eggs are blue-white with brown lines.

Common Grackle
Quiscalus quiscula

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The common grackle is probably one of the most abundant birds in North America. It is the familiar "blackbird" seen on city lawns, parks, and farmlands. Thousands gather near cities and farms in the fall in preparation for migration.

The male grackles are black with a glossy purple sheen. The females and juveniles are a dull brown and lack the glossy sheen. Common grackles have a varied diet ranging from insects, earthworms, and seeds to minnows, lizards, and small bats. Grackles will nest either singly or in colonies in tall evergreen trees. Nests are bulky and made of twigs, grasses, feather, and mud. The breeding season occurs from March until July. Eggs are pale green and blotched with brown and lavender

Red-Winged Blackbird
Agelaius phoeniceus

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

The red-winged blackbird is often associated with cattail marshes. The male will often defend a territory from other males until the females arrive on the nesting ground. The male spends most of its time clinging to old cattail stalks and defending its territory.

Red-winged blackbirds feed mostly on vegetable matter such as sunflower seeds, waste grain, and berries. During the harvest season, flocks of red-winged blackbirds will follow machinery and eat beetles, grasshoppers, and grubs that are stirred up. During migration, these birds travel in enormous flocks. A winter roost in Dismal Swamp, Virginia once held an estimated 15 million birds.

Nests are constructed by the female in cattails and are a loosely woven cup of dried cattail leaves, stalks, and fine grasses. Eggs are pale green and zig-zagged with lines of black, brown, and purple.

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