Dickcissel - Spiza americana
The Dickcissel is a sparrow-sized bird about 6 inches long with males about 10 to 20% larger than females (Temple 2002). Males have an overall grayish head with a striking yellow line above the eye (supercilium). The chin is white, bordered by yellow malar stripes with a black throat patch beneath. Males also have lateral throat stripes on either side of the black patch. The breast is bright yellow and the belly is white-gray. The back is streaked brownish and the tail and wings are blackish. The wings also have a significant brown or chestnut color at the shoulders (Temple 2002). Adult females have a less distinct head and facial pattern with no black throat patch, smaller, less obvious lateral throat stripes and a duller yellow breast. Also, the chestnut colored shoulder patches are much more pale compared to the adult male (Temple 2002). Immature Dickcissels are fairly similar in appearance to the adult female, but have a drabber plumage than the adult female (Temple 2002).
The song of the male Dickcissel is obvious when heard, as the bird appears to state its own name by singing "dick, dick, cissel" or "see, see, dick, dick, ciss, ciss, ciss" (National Geographic Society 1987, Temple 2002). The flight call, given by both sexes is often described as an electric buzz or buzzer-like "bzrrrt" or "fpppt."
The combination of black throat patch, bright yellow breast and chestnut colored shoulder patches distinguish the male Dickcissel. No other species in North America has this combination of characteristics (Temple 2002). The female and juvenile Dickcissel have similarities in size and coloration to the female House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). However, female and juvenile Dickcissels have lateral throat stripes, paler and longer bills, and streaked thighs, where the House Sparrow does not (Temple 2002). They are also slimmer in appearance than the House Sparrow.
Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations:
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Map Help and Descriptions
(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)
Almost no information regarding Dickcissel migratory patterns exists for Montana. Dickcissels have only been observed in the state during June and July, and most of these observations are breeding and potential breeding. Montana Bird Distribution (2003) has only three transient/migratory observations, all occurring in June. All of these observations were west of known breeding or potential breeding areas for Dickcissel in the state, except one observation west of the Continental Divide in Missoula.
No specific habitat information for Montana is currently available, as systematic surveys for Dickcissels have not been done. Habitat information from other Dickcissel sources state that breeding habitat is grasslands, meadows, savanna, cultivated lands, and brushy fields (American Ornithologists Union 1998). They nest on the ground in grass or rank herbage, or raised a little above ground, in grass tufts or tall weeds, or in low shrubs or trees, up to about 2 meters above the ground but usually low (Harrison 1978). They prefer habitat with dense, moderate to tall vegetation (particularly with some forbs) and moderately deep litter. Suitable habitats are found in old fields, hayfields, fencerows, hedgerows, road rights-of-way, planted cover (e.g., Conservation Reserve Program [CRP] fields and dense nesting cover), and moderately grazed and idle prairie. A high abundance of forbs provides perches, nesting cover, nest support, and possibly increased invertebrate abundance.
Nests are elevated in grasses, forbs, shrubs, or trees, and less commonly on the ground in thick vegetation (Gross 1921, Overmire 1962, 1963, Meanley 1963, Zimmerman 1966, Blankespoor 1970, Fretwell 1977, Frawley 1989, Winter 1998). Nest heights range from 0 to 2 meters (Taber 1947, Ely 1957, Meanley 1963, Von Steen 1965, Gross 1968, Berry 1971, Roth 1980, Laubach 1984, Winter 1998). Hayland is used more frequently for nesting than cropland (Gross 1968, Faanes and Lingle 1995). Occasionally they will nest in strip cover such as roadside ditches, fencerows, and grassed waterways (Gross 1921, Meanley 1963, Basore et al. 1986, Bryan and Best 1991, 1994, Camp and Best 1994, Warner 1994). Nests in road rights-of-way or other edge habitats, however, can experience high rates of depredation (Basore et al. 1986, Camp and Best 1994).
The non-breeding habitat of Dickcissels consists mainly of a variety of open habitats, second growth, and scrub (American Ornithologists Union 1998). They are also often found in rice-growing regions in winter (Ehrlich et al. 1992). They prefer to roost in sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) fields, but if not available, they will utilize bamboo, cattail marshes, grasses, and shrubs (Basili and Temple 1999).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (406) 444-3655.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
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- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
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No food habit studies have been completed in the state. In general, Dickcissels eat weed seeds, grain, insects, and spiders. In winter they eat mainly grain and seeds, foraging on the ground (Terres 1980) or picking seeds off seedheads (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Young nestlings are fed insects.
No information specific to Montana is available. Information from other locations within the species' range states that the mean territory size on the breeding grounds in tallgrass prairies of Kansas ranged from 0.45 to 0.57 hectares, whereas the mean territory size in old fields ranged from 0.15 to 0.95 hectares (Zimmerman 1966, Schartz 1969, Petersen 1978, Finck 1983, 1984). The mean territory size in an Illinois old field ranged from 0.38 to 0.54 hectares (Harmeson 1972, 1974). The mean territory sizes in ungrazed and grazed tallgrass prairie in Oklahoma were 0.25 hectares and 0.47 hectares, respectively (Overmire 1963). Larger territory sizes of 1.4 hectares and 1.5 hectares were reported for tallgrass prairie in Iowa and tallgrass pasture in Oklahoma, respectively (Wiens 1971, Laubach 1984). In Kansas, males commonly returned to the same breeding area in successive years (Zimmerman and Finck 1989).
In winter, Dickcissels occur in small groups or concentrated in dense flocks of 100s or 1000s (Hilty and Brown 1986) or up to 3 million in agricultural areas of Venezuelan llanos (Basili and Temple 1999).
Little information exists regarding Dickcissel reproduction in Montana. Systematic surveys for this species have yet to be done in the state. However, information from other areas where Dickcissels occur indicates that clutch sizes are between 3 and 5 (usually 4). They typically produce two broods per year. Incubation by the female lasts 11 to 13 days. Young are tended by the female and leave the nest at 7 to 10 days. However, they are unable to fly until 11 to 12 days.
No known active management is ongoing for the Dickcissel in the state. Policies regarding Conservation Reserve Program lands may have a significant impact on the reproductive success of Dickcissels in Montana given their habitat preferences (see Habitat). Dickcissels are a Species of Management Concern in Region 6 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1995).
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View WorldCat Record View Online Publication
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