Tommy J. DeBardeleben

Icterids of Maricopa County


Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

The Red-winged Blackbird is one of North America's most abundant and widespread birds.  It gathers in huge noisy flocks during the winter months, sometimes by the thousands, feeding on insects and seeds.  During breeding season, the male Red-winged Blackbird actively defends his territory.  The Red-winged Blackbird is abundant in Maricopa County throughout the entire year, especially in marshes, wetlands, agricultural fields, and orchards.


Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

This striking and awesome blackbird is found throughout much of western North America, where it nests in freshwater marshes and reedy lakes.  Like the Red-winged Blackbird, the Yellow-headed Blackbird gathers in large flocks, and can be seen feeding on insects, grass, and seeds, in fields in farmlands or agricultural areas when not in marshes.  It is easily seen in fall and winter, gathering in huge mixed flocks with other blackbirds.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds are locally common in Maricopa County in several areas, where they can be found throughout most of the year.  The best place to view this species is at Tres Rios Weltands (Area 7), at both the Hayfield and Overflow Wetland sites.  Other good viewing places are Veteran's Oasis Park (Area 4) and agricultural fields throughout both Areas 7 and 8.


Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna

This songster is widespread throughout eastern North America as well as some of the southwest including Arizona.  It is common in it's breeding range in fields and meadows, where it's song brights up any early morning.  This bird perches on an elevated fence or tree to deliver it's song, and feeds on the ground for insects and seeds.  Eastern Meadowlarks are very similar to Western Meadowlarks, but both species may be visually separted by careful study.  Voice is extremely different between both species, as they both give distinctive calls and songs.  In Arizona, the Eastern Meadowlark subspecies "lilianae" is found in Arizona.  They have a lot more white in their tail than Western Meadowlarks do, which is very obvious when in flight.  In Maricopa County, they are present and rather uncommon, sometimes being hard to find.  Look in fall during migration as well as throughout all of winter in fields and agricultural areas where Western Meadowlarks are found.


Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta

The Western Meadowlark is very common throughout much of the west and some of the east in fields, meadows, and grasslands.  It has similar habits to the Eastern Meadowlark, singing on perches and feeding on seeds and insects on the ground.  In Maricopa County, Western Meadowlarks are present throughout most of the year in open fields, agriculture, and sometimes open grass within parks and other open areas.  In winter, they gather in huge flocks.  Western Meadowlarks are most easily observed when driving through fields in the southwestern areas of the county (Area 7 and 8), although they are found in many of the areas in the county easily.


Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus

The Brewer's Blackbird can be seen in Maricopa County in most of spring, fall, and winter.  They aren't as common as some icterids in the county, but can be found easily in agricultural fields, parks, and farmlands.  Look for Brewer's Blackbirds also in midst of mixed blackbird flocks, where they feed on seeds, grains, and insects.


Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus

The Great-tailed Grackle is very common in it's North American range, and is abundant in Maricopa County.  It has rapidly increased it's population and numbers, and has become almost a nuisance.  This bird is found in high numbers in Maricopa County, especially in midst of the city, parks, parking lots and gas stations, neighborhoods and housing developments, as well as ponds, wetlands, and fields.  It is very vocal and has a highly omnivorous diet. 


Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus

The Bronzed Cowbird is most easily observed in Maricopa County starting in spring and continuing through summer and fall.  It is much harder to find in the winter months.  This bird is rather local and is reliably seen in Maricopa County in a few areas, which include:  Area 1 (Sycamore Creek at Mile Marker 212-213, Mesquite Wash), Area 2 (Granite Reef and Butcher Jones Recreation Sites), and Area 5 (Phoenix Zoo).  Both male and female Bronzed Cowbirds have a ruff on the backside of their head.  Bronzed Cowbirds feed on the ground, and the male shows spectacular courtship displays. 


Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater

This bird is a widespread parasite in North America.  Like all cowbirds, it lays it's eggs in the nest of other songbirds.  Sadly, this bird is widespread and abundant, and effects the health of birds that matter.  This bird is common in Maricopa County in most areas throughout the year in a variety of different habitats, mostly open areas.


Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus

The Hooded Oriole is common in Maricopa County during it's breeding season in riparian habitats, especially those with sycamore trees.  It also highly nests in palm trees and favors areas with an entensive amount of palms, especially in California.  The Hooded Oriole feeds on insects, berries, and nectar while foraging high in treetops.  It is found in the western part of North America, in the southern half of the southwest states and east to Texas.  In Maricopa County, great spots to see Hooded Orioles are:  Area 1 (Mesquite Wash, Sunflower, Sycamore Creek, Bushnell Tanks, Four Peaks in lower riparian areas), Area 3 (Fish Creek), Area 10 (Hassayampa River Preserve) and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek and Seven Springs Recreation Area).  Hooded Orioles are most easily observed in Maricopa County starting in spring and continuing through late summer.


Bullock's Oriole Icterus bullockii

The Bullock's Oriole used to be one species with it's eastern counterpart, the Baltimore Oriole.  Together as one species, they were known as the Northern Oriole before being split.  Bullock's Orioles are widespread throughout the west, especially in areas with good tree cover.  In Maricopa County, they are often found in riparian areas with tall cottonwoods and willows, as well as surrounding mesquites.  This species is very vocal and is easy to located when vocalizing.  Bullock's Orioles feed on insects and fruits and like other orioles, visits bird feeders.  In Maricopa County, the Bullock's Oriole is most easily observed from spring through summer before their population migrates south by the end of September.  Excellent places see Bullock's Orioles are:  Area 1 (Mesquite Wash, Sycamore Creek, Sunflower, Bushnell Tanks), all of Area 2, Area 7 (Tres Rios Wetlands-Overflow and Hayfield), Area 10 (Morgan City Wash, US 60 Reststop, Hassayampa River Preserve), Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek and Seven Springs), and Area 12 (Box Bar and Needle Rock Recreation Sites).  This species may be seen at a number of places during migration.


Scott's Oriole Icterus parisorum

This beautiful yellow and black oriole inhabits dry hillsides of the southwest.  In Maricopa County, these favored habitats most often consist of scrubby chaparral areas with agaves and scattered junipers, as well as Upper Sonoran Zones with shrubby areas and yucca.  The habitat mix also includes juniper and oak woodlands.  The male Scott's Oriole is distictive at all times, and is an awesome sight.  Many birders make specific efforts to see the striking bird.  This bird feeds on insects and fruits, and has a loud song that sounds similar in ways to a Western Meadowlark.  In Maricopa County, Scott's Orioles are seen most easily from April through the end of summer.  Good places to see Scott's Orioles include:  Area 1 (Sunflower, Bushnell Tanks, and lower Mount Ord, Slate Creek Divide, and Four Peaks), and Area 11 (Lower Camp Creek, Mount Humboldt, Seven Springs Recreation Area), and perhaps Area 12 (in various habitats on route to Horseshoe Lake).


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