Thursday, August 7, 2014

Where Have All the Dickcissel Gone?

One of the enjoyable sights and sounds at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is the cheery song of the Dickcissel, perched in the tall grasses in meadows and along roadsides in spring and early summer.  

Dickcissel singing at HNWR, by Dick Malnory

 The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas   describes the Dickcissel as a sparrow-sized  Meadowlark.   Dickcissel nest in grasses or near the ground shrubs or saplings, and lay 3 - 5 eggs.  They may have one or two broods.  They forage on the ground for insects and seeds.

The tram tour guide  for Sunday, August 3, reported seeing NO Dickcissel along Wildlife Drive.  During the month of June the weekly census reports ranged from 18 – 33; during July the weekly count ranged from 16 at the beginning of the month to 8 in the last week of July; for August 5 the count was down to 5.  Wondering if they had begun their fall migration, we found,  from the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas:

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Dickcissel migrates north through Texas from March 10 to June 13 with peak movement from late March to mid-May. The species breeds from early April to mid-August with egg dates from April 16 to July 30. TBBA field workers found nest building occurring from May 4 to June 2, birds on or around nests from May 8-18, young being fed from May 27 to July 5, and recently fledged young from May 9-July 29. The species moves south from July 10 to November 23 with the peak flight from late July to mid-October (Oberholser 1974).

And where do they go?

The prime wintering area of the Dickcissel is the seasonally flooded grasslands north of the Orinoco River in central Venezuela (llanos). The species also winters in lowlands of Colombia and along the west coast of Middle America from Mexico to Panama (Temple 2002).

According to Cornell’s All About Birds,  

The Dickcissel congregates in huge flocks in migration and on its tropical grassland wintering grounds.  Somewhere, Dickcissel are beginning to gather for the trip south – but not at the refuge!

Additional Reference:


Contact the Refuge for more information about the guided tram tours at the refuge.

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