Dickcissel – Accepted

1–2. 27 May 1972


Furnace Creek Ranch INY



3. 02 Oct 1972


Yucca Valley SBE



4. 04 Nov 1973


Furnace Creek Ranch INY



5. 24 Aug 1976


Princeton SM










Figure 314. The CBRC reviewed records of the Dickcissel from 1972 to 1976, until the species’ status as a very rare but regular fall transient, with additional records from other seasons, became apparent. This bird’s faintly yellow breast, finely streaked underparts, and muted face pattern identify it as a first-fall female. It was photographed in September 1994 at Iron Mountain Pumping Plant, San Bernardino County (Brian E. Small).







DICKCISSEL Spiza americana (Gmelin, 1789)

Accepted: 5 (100%)

Treated in Appendix H: no

Not accepted: 0

CBRC review: records from 1972 through 19761

Not submitted/reviewed: NA

Large color image: see Figure

This declining, grassland-dependent species breeds mainly on the Great Plains—from northern North Dakota south to southern Texas and east to the Appalachian Mts.—and irregularly west, north, and east of the primary range. Mowbray (2006) provided a recent overview of its population status and conservation concerns. Most birds winter in the llanos of Venezuela, but substantial numbers winter erratically as far north as Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific slope. Widely scattered birds winter regularly—frequently with House Sparrows and at feeders—along the Gulf coast, along the Atlantic coast north to Nova Scotia (casually to Newfoundland), and casually in the southern Great Lakes region and eastern Colorado. The species strays casually to rarely west to the Pacific coast, from southern British Columbia south to Baja California Sur and Clipperton Atoll. Accidentals have been recorded in southeastern Alaska (NAB 58:420, 463) and Norway.

California’s first Dickcissel was an adult male captured and released in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, 29–30 September 1948 (Stager 1949). Nearly a decade passed until the state’s second, a male collected on 19 November 1957 in Arcata, Humboldt County (Woody 1958; MSB 12662). The rate of occurrence picked up during the 1960s and 1970s but has since declined to roughly five to ten per year. Most records pertain to coastal fall transients between late August and early November, peaking in mid September, with southern California claiming the lion’s share. The tendency toward coastal vagrancy is stronger in northern California, as several have been found during fall in the southern deserts. The earliest autumnal vagrant, by two weeks, involves a bird found on 9 August 1976 in Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County (Lehman 1994). The latest fall vagrants were recorded on 17 November 1993 at Furnace Creek Ranch in Inyo County (AB 48:154) and 28 November 1964 at the south end of the Salton Sea in Imperial County (Patten et al. 2003); see also the 19 November specimen record discussed above. In its heyday, the Tijuana River valley in San Diego County hosted at least 12 Dickcissels between 20 September and 1 October 1963, including seven together on 27 September (McCaskie et al. 1967b; SDNHM 30784), a concentration that remains unparalleled in California.

Dickcissels overwinter along the coast on very rare occasion. Individuals have remained at feeders for extended periods between 6 December and 9 April of different years in Del Norte, Humboldt, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and San Diego Counties. A bird found on 15 December 2000 in El Monte, Los Angeles County (NAB 55:229), was most likely attempting to overwinter. Individuals at Pescadero, San Mateo County, 6–17 April 1997 (FN 51:925), and at Nipomo, San Luis Obispo County, 13 April 2001 (NAB 55:358), most likely spent the winter locally.

Spring vagrants occur casually in California, primarily in the state’s southern half. Most are found in the interior between mid May and mid June, with three earlier ones: 25 April 1968 at Saratoga Springs, San Bernardino County (Austin 1969, UNLV B-979); 2 May 2001 at Happy Camp, Siskiyou County (Harris 2006); and 11 May 2002 at Rovena, Inyo County (NAB 56:359). Records of exceptionally late spring vagrants, or wandering failed breeders, come from Southeast Farallon Island, 7 July 1991 (Richardson et al. 2003); Point Sur, Monterey County, 16–22 July 1997 (Roberson 2002); and the Guadalupe River, Santa Clara County, 24–26 July 1999 (NAB 53:431).

1On the review list 1972–1973


[EASTERN MEADOWLARK Sturnella magna (Linnaeus, 1758) – see hypothetical section]