If you spend any time in spring and summer in open grassy, weedy, or shrubby fields in the Midwest and Great Plains, then you must know the Dickcissel.
Dickcissels arrive in central Oklahoma about the first week of May, and immediately start claiming territories by singing from exposed perches in mostly grassland areas. They are abundant, and are one the “big three” of grassland breeding songbirds in the central US, the others being Eastern Meadowlark and Grasshopper Sparrow. Though they are abundant, however, grassland birds in North America have been experiencing long term population declines, as these data from the 2009 State of the Birds report illustrate:
Still, if you’re in big weedy hayfield in Oklahoma in May and June, the air resounds with “dick-dick: tchsssh tchsssh tchsssh!” By the end of June, that constant chatter dies down dramatically, and those same fields seem eerily quiet by mid-July. Soon thereafter, the Dickcissels will prepare for their long journey south to overwinter in the rice fields of Venezuela. (Listen to Dickcissel song here: DICK, from the MacCaulay Library at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.)
Even those who know the song well, however, might not have had the chance to find a Dickcissel’s nest. Recently, we found two in the span of a few minutes while walking a transect through a native grass hayfield here in Stillwater.
Can you see it yet?
How ’bout now?
There it is!
Here’s the other one: