Rare Fall Visitor (Spiza americana)
|Dickcissel Adult Female [Carmella Melanson Photo]|
The Dickcissel is a sparrow-like bird about the same size as a House Sparrow. In fact, they often hang out with House or other sparrows. They readily come to feeders in this area but on their normal range they are birds of fields and meadows where they feed on seeds, grasses, and insects. In summer their normal range is the central US from eastern Montana and the Great Lakes region south to Texas and the Gulf coast. They winter from southern Mexico into South America. When preparing for migration they often gather in large flocks sometimes in the thousands. On the wintering grounds their roosts can number into the millions of birds.
The male Dickcissel in breeding plumage is very showy with a black bib, white chin, yellow eyebrow, and yellow breast (sorry, no photo). His back is grayish brown and patterned. His wings have a bright chestnut shoulder patch. The female is more muted and lacks the black bib or she may have remnants of it. The yellow eyebrow of the male is duller in the female and it is often a buffy colour behind the eye. Juveniles are more like the female and have fine streaking on the breast and flanks. They also do not have the chestnut shoulder patch.
The Dickcissel nests on or near the ground. The nest is made of plant stems and grass and the 3 to 5 eggs are pale blue. All the work related to nest-building, incubation and the rearing of young is done by the female only. The unusual name of this species comes from its song which is lustily sung by the male from the top of a bush or post. He says something similar to 'dick dick ciss ciss'.
The first Dickcissel ever recorded in New Brunswick was in 1951 from Machias Seal Island. We have had a lot of them since then. Perhaps you will have one at your feeder this fall. Keep a close eye on the ground under your feeders!