IUCN threat status:

Least Concern (LC)

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Spiza americana

A sparrow-sized (6-7 inches) songbird, the male Dickcissel is most easily identified by its mottled brown back, gray flanks, yellow breast, black throat patch, and gray face with conspicuous yellow eye-stripes. The female Dickcissel is similar to the male, but is duller and lacks the black on the throat. This species is similar in size and coloration to the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), but that species lacks any trace of yellow on its body. The Dickcissel primarily breeds in the central Great Plains. Smaller numbers breed further north and south on the Plains and locally in the Mid-Atlantic region, although this species is less common outside its core range today than in was a century ago. This species is a long-distance migrant, wintering from southern Mexico south to Venezuela. Dickcissels are heavily dependent on open areas for breeding, and may be found on grassland, prairie, and agricultural fields. During the winter, this species utilizes similar habitat types as in summer. Dickcissels primarily eat seeds and small insects in summer, eating seeds alone during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Dickcissels may be seen foraging for food on the ground below grasses and other low plants. Males may also be seen singing this species’ characteristic “dick-ciss-ciss-ciss” song from a prominent perch, such as a fencepost. Dickcissels are primarily active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species undertakes part of its migration at night.


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© Smithsonian Institution

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