Yellow-headed Blackbird
(Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)


Picture of bird
© Jukka Jantunen (
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Yellow-headed Blackbird breeds in the grassland marshes of western Canada. Breeding Bird Survey data indicate that the Canadian population of this common species has shown little overall change since 1970. However, the population has fluctuated widely within this period and shows large regional variation. The abundance of Yellow-headed Blackbirds fluctuates with climatic cycles that affect the water levels in western marshes (Lederer et al. 1975); any long-term reduction in water tables within its range will likely result in lower abundance.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLittle ChangeHighAt an Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada1,000,000 - 5,000,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between early May and late May and ends between early July and mid-July, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

Numbers of Yellow-headed Blackbirds tend to increase with higher water levels and decrease as water levels decline (Lederer et al. 1975). Water table levels not only increase the amount of suitable breeding habitat, but enhance the suitability of that habitat. Fluctuations in annual precipitation drove large population changes throughout the species' range in North America from 1970 to 1990 (Twedt and Crawford 1995). If water levels continue to decline on the Canadian prairies as some have predicted (Schindler and Donahue 2006), Yellow-headed Blackbird populations may be affected. Other factors affecting Yellow-headed Blackbird abundance include pollution, predators (including raccoons and domestic cats), and climate change (Henning and Hinz 2017).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type