Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Yellow-headed Blackbird - Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Search Common:                 Search Scientific:
General Comments The Yellow-headed Blackbird is practically a "waterbird", in that in its nesting range in the upper Midwest and the Western part of the continent, it is limited to marshes, usually around the margins of lakes and ponds where a great variety of true waterbirds also nest. This large and spectacular blackbird is strongly migratory, wintering mainly in Mexico and the extreme Southwest. Fortunately for Easterners, a number of birds migrate "the wrong way" in fall, and it is a regular (though very scarce) fall migrant in the state, with a number of winter records, as well. In North Carolina, most of these "strays" are seen along the immediate coast in fall, but later in the season, and in winter, birds can appear anywhere in the state. In fall, they often appear within a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, in marshes, in dunes, and other places where Red-wingeds feed. In winter, they are most often seen within huge flocks of other blackbirds, such as Common Grackles and/or Red-winged Blackbirds, feeding in plowed fields; but, a few even show up at bird feeders.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Sparse transient and winter visitor. Rare in fall along the immediate coast, more so along the Outer Banks; very rare elsewhere in fall. In winter, very rare to rare in the Tidewater (especially south of Albemarle Sound) and other eastern Coastal Plain sites, and casual to very rare farther inland (and along the coast); however, apparently no records for the Sandhills. Mainly mid- or late Jul to mid-Oct, but many records to early May; the late date is 23 May. A female or first-year male was out of season in a yard in Hobucken (Pamlico), 14-15 Jun 2015. Peak counts: 5, Cape Hatteras Point, 3 Sep 1984.
Piedmont Very rare visitor. There are only about 16 reports from the province -- six from late summer to early fall (15 Aug - 2 Oct), six from late fall and winter (one in Nov, three in Jan, and one in Feb); three from spring (7 Apr - 10 May); and one in early summer (7 Jun). All were single birds, and the only ones recorded for more than one day was an adult male in Winston-Salem, 7 Apr - 1 May 1992 [Chat 57:108 link], and a female along Mid-Pines Road (Wake), 17-21 Feb 2022 [Chat 86:63 link].
Mountains Very rare visitor. There are only about 10 reports from the mountains, all since 1988. All but one were in the Apr - Sep time frame: two in mid-Apr, one each in mid-May and mid-Jun, one in late Jul, one in early Aug, one in early Sep, and two in mid-Sep. The only winter record was in Haywood on 29 Dec 2005 [Chat 70:57-58 link].
Finding Tips The Yellow-headed Blackbird is a difficult bird to find in the state. When birding along the coast in mid-fall, check out flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds for one. In winter, always scan large flocks of blackbirds that are feeding in plowed fields, for species such as Brewer's and Yellow-headed blackbirds.
Attribution LeGrand[2022-04-27], LeGrand[2021-05-17], LeGrand[2020-04-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.