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Happening NOW: Dickcissels on the Move

Dickcissel is a summertime staple of America’s Heartland. However, it has also garnered a reputation for being nomadic and unpredictable, and in some years will wander in large numbers well beyond the prairie. It appears that 2017 is shaping up to be a prime example of such a movement. Here at the NAB news desk we’ve spent much of June monitoring a surge of Dickcissel reports from regions outside its core summer range: the Mid-Atlantic, northern portions of the Upper Midwest, Ontario, and Manitoba, among others. This summer has brought about the first Dickcissel sightings to many locations since the last substantial “invasion,” back in 2012.

2017 has seen many reports of Dickcissel throughout the Upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and southern Canada. Map from eBird.

Naturally we’ll touch on this event, possible causes, and overall significance both in this space and in a future issue of NAB, but for now we want to encourage birders who might be in the path of Dickcissels to get out and have a look at open country habitats in their local patches. If you live in an area that typically hosts breeding Dickcissels, are you seeing them in expected numbers? If you live elsewhere, what habitats are they occupying? When did they start to arrive?

Birders should be on the lookout for the dapper, and often conspicuous, Dickcissel in areas outside of their core range this summer. Photo: Charles Shields/Macaulay Library

This is an event that could easily spill over into July, so even if you don’t find any right now, try again soon! Be sure to get your Dickcissel reports into eBird (especially if you are birding in a state currently conducting a breeding bird atlas), forward notes to your local report compiler, and let us know what you’re seeing in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you, and look forward to seeing how this event will unfold during the next few weeks.

Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts from the editors of North American Birds. The idea of these occasional posts is to highlight ongoing bird population phenomena of broad interest to birders and field ornithologists across the continent. Full analysis will appear in print in North American Birds. To learn more or to subscribe, please go online:
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Tom Reed

Tom Reed

Co-editor, North American Birds at American Birding Association
Tom Reed is co-editor of North American Birds. His primary interests revolve around geography, weather, bird movements, and the relationships between all three. Tom grew up birding in Cape May, NJ, where he has served as Migration Count Coordinator for the Cape May Bird Observatory. He sits on the board of the Hawk Migration Association of North America, is the U.S. site coordinator for Trektellen, leads trips for Wildside Nature Tours, and is a voting member on the New Jersey Bird Records Committee.
Tom Reed

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  • Great timing on this article. I just got back from my first Dickcissel hunting trip this summer and found 3 in a field near Seneca Falls, NY. I remember the last invasion well, because I was able to pick up Dickcissel for several new counties in PA.

  • Anthony VanSchoor

    May 23rd was the discovery date for our dickcissel. Here in Howard County MD these are few and far between until this. May 24th was my first day getting eyes on what turned out to be 8 with possibly a couple more…The landowner was planning on farming the occupied area and the Howard County Bird Club coordinated a time frame to lease the land from the farmer. A fledgling was seen yesterday and it is exactly what we hoped for!!

  • Ted Floyd

    These Dickcissel phenomena have fascinated me ever since I became aware of an “invasion” of western Pennsylvania in the summer of 1988, nicely described by Bob Mulvihill in this article in the journal Pennsylvania Birds:

    (Scroll down to p. 83.)

    While the invasion was under way that summer, we learned about it the old-fashioned way: word of mouth + finding birds on our own. That’s great, and it’s still a good idea, after all these years, to go find birds & talk to folks about it. But I also remember discussing at the time how cool it would be if we could get more people aware and evolved. Fast forward almost 30 years, and we’re there! Thanks, Tom, and thanks, NAB, for this post.

    • Ted Floyd

      So, the other night, my kids and I went looking for a Dickcissel near our house. We’d read on our state listserv (didn’t have those in 1988) about Dickcissels at this site, we went there on a warm evening after the obligatory detour at Dairy Queen, and there was the bird, singing its heart out.

      On the one hand, there was something wonderfully idyllic and old-fashioned about the preceding: pack the kids in the car, get ice cream, drive down a dusty county road, get Dickcissel, county year bird, tick. On the other hand, it was all precipitated by a post to our state listserv. Love it.

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