Illustration: Brewer's blackbird

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt

Map

Map: Brewer's blackbird range

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A common and widespread ground-dwelling icterid of the West, the Brewer’s in some ways replaces the common grackle ecologically. Monotypic. Length 9" (23 cm).

Identification A slim blackbird lacking striking structural features. Male: basically black with bright yellow eyes. Strongly iridescent, with a bright blue or purplish blue sheen on the head, while the body is greenish. Bill and legs black. Female: dull brownish gray and unstreaked, with darker wings and tail. Slightly paler supercilium; dark eyes. Immature male: some young males exactly as adults, others show some buffy feather tips on breast and warmer buff tipping on back.

Similar Species A summer rusty blackbird is similar, but it has a more slender pointed bill. The male Brewer’s is more strongly glossy, showing blue on head and green on body. In winter some young male Brewer’s’ show buff tipping on breast, head, and upperparts, but tertials are always entirely black. The female Brewer’s is darker and browner, with dull green gloss on the wings, than the female rusty, which has grayish color, a more slender pointed bill. The male Brewer’s is more strongly glossy, showing blue on head and green on body. In winter some young male Brewer’s’ show buff tipping on breast, head, and upperparts, but tertials are always entirely black. The female Brewer’s is darker and browner, with dull green gloss on the wings, than the female rusty, which has grayish color, particularly the rump. Female Brewer’s typically show a dark eye, although a few show yellowish eyes. Common grackle has a long, graduated tail often held in a deeply keeled shape. Common grackles show more complex and brighter iridescence patterns than the Brewer’s, with a characteristic abrupt break in color from the head iridescence to that of the body.

Voice Call: a chak, or chuk similar to that of a rusty or red-winged blackbird. When alarmed, it gives a whistled teeeuuuu or sweeee. Song: often gives a faint and unappealing raspy schlee or schrrup during the ruff-out display; both sexes sing and display.

Status and Distribution Common. Year-round: varied habitats, including urban areas, golf courses, agricultural lands, open shrubby areas, forest clear-cuts, and riparian forest edges. Requires open ground for foraging and some dense vegetation or edge for nesting. Farther east, where sympatric with the common grackle, it takes more open sites than the grackle. Migration: poorly understood, easternmost populations more migratory. Extent of movements correlated with snowcover. Wintering groups somewhat nomadic. Vagrant: casual to central and northern Alaska, Northwest Territories, and northeastern Virginia.

Population Breeding Bird Survey has detected a general decline in this species, at a rate of 2.1 percent per year.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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