The Irregular Range of Dickcissels

The Irregular Range of Dickcissels by Gene Walz

If you look at the range map for Dickcissels (Spiza americana), you’ll notice that they are mainly birds of the US Great Plains. Despite their Latin name, they do venture into Canada – into a small slice of the prairies of southwestern Manitoba and south-eastern Saskatchewan.

Female Dickcissel Birds

Dickcissel, adult female © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Most years it’s virtually impossible to find them here. It has nothing to do with US Homeland Security! Dickcissels don’t have fixed home grounds. They are opportunists, roaming about in response to grassland conditions.

This year is an exceptional one, the first big year for Dickcissels in Manitoba since 1973. A couple of weeks ago a few were spotted near the North Dakota–Manitoba border. Given the coordinates, local birders flocked to see them. Since then Dickcissels have been recorded in dozens of different places in this province. It’s what they call an incursion year. Many birders are getting first-ever sightings. Easily.

Male Dickcissel Birds

Dickcissel, adult male © Brian E. Small/VIREO

Dickcissels, like chickadees and jays, take their name from their songs. They’ll sit on a wire or a fencepost and sing incessantly all day long. With their bright, lemon-yellow chest with its distinctive black vee, the males look like a cross between a Meadowlark and a House Sparrow.

If they’re around, Dickcissels are pretty easy to find and identify. Drought conditions in the US probably account for their large numbers here.

Gene Walz

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One Response to “The Irregular Range of Dickcissels”

  1. john nemeth says:

    Several of us were at a Glacier Ridge birding program on Saturday in late June and saw one. If anyone has an interest, try the north entrance to the park and west of the horse barn off the walking path.

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