The various members of the family Icteridæ differ so much among themselves in food-habit that it would be quite difficult to briefly summarize this. This much, however, can be said of the group, viz., that it is essentially insectivorous. The Meadowlark, orioles, Red- winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds certainly have this trait very marked indeed while with us; and, if we are to believe the results obtained by the United States in the recent examinations into the food of the Crow blackbirds, where 2,258 stomachs were examined covering the entire year with the result of 46 per cent being insects, we must acknowledge that the work of these birds is beneficial in the main.

This leaves to be considered by us the Bobolink and Cowbird, both of which as Nebraska birds are insectivorous. A more detailed account of the food-habits of these birds will be found under the respective species beyond.

494. Dolichonyx oryzivorus (Linn.).—BOBOLINK.

Omaha, Scribner, Holt county, Norfolk—breeds (L. Bruner); "abundant in Nebraska, where it breeds" (Aughey); "Summer resident, abundant, arrives in May" (Taylor); "West to the high plains" (Goss); Beatrice (A. S. Pearse); Omaha—breeds (L. Skow) ; Cherry county—breeds (J. M. Bates); numerous Nebraska localities (D. H. Talbot); Gage county (F. A. Colby); a common migrant and rare summer resident in vicinity of Omaha, but common summer resident and breeder in Cherry county" (I. S. Trostler).

495. Molothrus ater (Bodd.).—COWBIRD.

West Point, Omaha, Lincoln, Thedford, Crawford, etc. —breeds (L. Bruner); "This bird is unfortunately abundant in Nebraska" (Aughey); "Summer resident, common, arrive in May and leave in October" (Taylor); "From the Atlantic to the Pacific" (Goss); Beatrice (A. S. Pearse); Fairbury (M. L. Eaton); Omaha—breeds (L. Skow); Cherry county, Holt county—breeds, "saw a nest of Redwing Blackbird at Stuart with five eggs of this bird and three of its host" (J. M. Bates); Omaha, "an abundant migrant and summer resident—May 2 to Oct. 15" (I. S. Trostler); Lincoln, Oct. 10 (D. A. Haggard).

The Cowbird is peculiarly distinct from all other species of the feathered tribe as represented in our state. Unlike other birds that seem to enjoy nest—building and caring for their young, this species is a genuine parasite, building no nest itself, "but inflicting its eggs usually on smaller birds, leaving to them the labor and care of rearing its young. It appears to be entirely devoid of conjugal affection, and practices polyandra, the small flocks in which it is found during the season of reproduction generally containing several more males than females" (Bendire). Of course the bird is harmful if we judge it from this particular feature of its life-history, but if we take into account its food-habits it is beneficial.

Living, as it does, about cattle, and including in its bill of fare a large number of various insects like flies, ticks, lice, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, etc., this habit partly offsets the bad traits above referred to.

Bendire lists ninety different species and subspecies of birds in the nests of which the eggs of this bird have been taken. To this large list Mr. I. S. Trostler adds the three following, viz. : The Chestnut-aided Warbler (Dendroica pennsylvanica), Bell’s Vireo ( Vireo bellii), and the Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum passerinus).

497. Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus (Bonap.). YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD.

Omaha, Lincoln, West Point, Holt county, breeds (L. Bruner); "Very abundant in Nebraska, where it breeds" (Aughey); "Summer resident, common; migratory, abundant" (Taylor); "Temperate western North America" (Goss); Omaha—breeds (L. Skow); Peru, common—breeds (G. A. Coleman); Cherry county—breeds (J. M. Bates); O’Neill, Holt county (D. H. Talbot); Gage county (F. A. Colby); "abundant migrant and common summer resident, abundant breeder in Cherry county" (I. S. Trostler).

498. Agelaius phœniceus (Linn.).—RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD

Entire state—breeds (L. Bruner); "Common along water-courses in Nebraska" (Aughey); "Summer resident, common" (Taylor); "Temperate North America in general" (Goss); Beatrice, De Witt-breeding (A. S. Pearse); Omaha—breeds (L. Skow); Peru, common—breeds (G. A. Coleman); Cherry and Holt counties—breeds, occasionally remains throughout winter about cattle yards (J. M. Bates); several Nebraska localities (D. H. Talbot): Gage county—breeds (F. A. Colby); "an abundant migrant and summer resident, arrives March 15 to April 1—breeds May 15 to July 4, departs Sept. 25 to Oct. 16" (L S. Trostler); Lincoln, March 12, Oct. 10 (D. A. Haggard).

In the Red-winged Blackbird we have a friend that we little dream of when we see the large flocks gathering about our corn-fields during late summer and early fall. During the balance of the year it is engaged most of the time in waging war upon various insect pests, including such forms as the "grub-worms," cut—worms, grasshoppers, army worm, beet caterpillar, etc. Even when it visits our corn-fields it more than pays for the corn it eats by the destruction of the worms that lurk under the husks of a large per cent of the ears in every field.

Several years ago the beet-fields in the vicinity of Grand Island were threatened great injury by a certain caterpillar that had nearly defoliated all the beets growing in many of them. At about this time large flocks of this bird appeared and after a week's sojourn the caterpillar plague had vanished, it having been converted into bird tissues. Numerous other records of the efficiency of their labor as destroyers of insect pests might be quoted in favor of these birds, but I do not believe this to be necessary, although considerable evidence has been recorded of its destroying both fruits and grains.

501. Sturnella magna (Linn.).—MEADOWLARK.

Entire state, breeds (L. Bruner); eastern form not beyond Ft. Kearney; "Resident, common" (Taylor); "West to the edge of the Great Plains" (Goss); Beatrice, De Witt—nesting (A. S. Pearse); Cherry county—breeds (J. M. Bates); Gage county—breeds (F. A. Colby); "probably occurs here, have heard it in Iowa opposite Omaha" (I. S. Trostler); Long Pine (J. M. Bates).

501b. Sturnella magna neglecta (Aud.).—WESTERN MEADOWLARK.

West Point, Lincoln, Thedford, Sidney, Ft. Robinson, Harrison, etc.—breeds. Only occasionally in eastern part, very common in western part of state (L Bruner); " neglecta most abundant" (Aughey); "Resident, common" (Taylor); "From Nebraska and Texas to the Pacific coast" (Goss); Omaha—nesting (L. Skow); Peru—breeds (G. A. Coleman); Cherry county—nesting, also occasionally wintering (J. M. Bates); numerous localities in state (D. H. Talbot); "An abundant resident—breeds April 20 to Aug. 3" (I. S. Trostler); Hat creek basin, one specimen remained throughout winter (Elliott W. Brown).

506. Icterus spurius (Linn.).—ORCHARD ORIOLE.

Omaha, Lincoln, West Point, South Bend, Bellevue—breeds (L. Bruner); "Common but not abundant in Nebraska, and breeds here" (Aughey); "Summer resident, abundant" (Taylor); "West to the base of the Rocky mountains" (Goss); Beatrice, De Witt—nesting (A. S. Pearse); Omaha—breeds (L. Skow); Peru, common—breeds (G. A. Coleman); Cherry county—breeds (J. M. Bates); Newcastle (D. H. Talbot); Gage county-breeds (F. A. Colby); Omaha, "a common summer resident, arrives May 1 to 10, breeds June 10 to 20, depart in September" (I. S. Trostler).

507. Icterus glabula (Linn.).—BALTIMORE ORIOLE.

West Point, Omaha, Lincoln, South Bend, etc. —breeds (L. Bruner); "Common all over eastern Nebraska where there is woodland or orchard "(Aughey); "Summer resident, abundant, arrive in April and May" (Taylor); "West to the base of the Rocky mountains "(Goss); Beatrice, De Witt—breeds (A. S. Pearse); Omaha—breeds (L. Skow); Peru, common—breeds (G. A. Coleman); Cherry county—breeds (J. M. Bates); Ponca, Hartington (D. H. Talbot); Gage county—breeds (F. A. Colby); "a common summer resident, arrives May 6 to 20, breeds June 1 to 20, depart middle of September" (I. S. Trostler).

Orchard Oriole

The Baltimore Oriole has received such a bad reputation here in Nebraska as a grape thief during the past two or three years that I feel inclined to give extra time and space in endeavoring to "clear him" of such an unenviable a charge. This, however, I hardly think necessary when the facts in the case are known. As insect destroyers both this bird and the Orchard Oriole have had an undisputed reputation for many years; and the kinds of insects destroyed by both are of such a class as to count in their favor. Caterpillars, and beetles belonging to injurious species comprising 96 per cent of the food of three specimens killed, is the record we have in their favor. On the other hand grapes have been punctured only "presumably by this bird, since he has so frequently been found in the vineyard and must be the culprit." Now, I myself have seen the oriole in apple orchards under compromising circumstances, and have heard pretty strong evidence to the effect that it will occasionally puncture ripe apples. It also belongs in the same family with some generally acceded "rascals," hence I will admit that possibly some of the charges with which he is credited may be true; but I still believe that most of the injuries to grapes in this and other states must be laid to other origin.

If we take pains to water our birds during the dry seasons they will be much less apt to seek this supply from the juices of fruits that are so temptingly near at hand. Place little pans of water in the orchard and vineyard where the birds can visit them without fear of being seized by the house cat or knocked over by a missile from the alert "small boy," and I am sure that the injury to fruit, to a great extent at least, will cease. (See also account of English Sparrow.)

508. Icterus bullocki (Swains.).—BULL0CK'S ORIOLE.

West Point, Ft. Robinson—breeds (L Bruner); "is also frequently seen in Nebraska" (Aughey); "Summer resident, common; found mostly in the western part of the state" (Taylor); "East to Dakota and Texas" (Goss).

509. Scolecophagus carolinus (Müll.).—RUSTY BLACKBIRD.

West Point. Lincoln, Lyons, a few remain with us all winter (L. Bruner); "This species abounds in early spring and in the last of September and October during its migrations" (Aughey); "Found in early spring and September and October, probably remains in the state during winter" (Taylor); "West to Great Plains" (Goss); Omaha (L. Skow); Cherry county (J. M. Bates); "An abundant migrant" (I. S. Trostler); Lincoln. Oct. 8, 10, 25 (D. A. Haggard).

510. Scolecophagus cyanocephalus (Wagl.).--BREWER'S BLACKBIRD.

West Point, Holt county (L. Bruner); "very abundant in Nebraska, where it breeds" (Aughey); "Migratory, common; summer resident, not common; arrives in April and leaves in September" (Taylor); "East to western Minnesota and Texas" (Goss); Omaha (L. Skow); Cherry county (J. M. Bates): Omaha, "a common migrant, usually in company with Bronzed and Purple grackles (I. S. Trostler).

511. Quiscalus quiscula (Linn.).--PURPLE GRACKLE.

West Point, Omaha (L Bruner); "abundant in eastern Nebraska" (Aughey); Omaha—nesting (L Skow); "an abundant migrant and somewhat common summer resident, arrives March 20 to April 10, breeds May 10 to 20, departs last of September and early October" (I. S. Trostler).

51lb. Quiscalus quiscula æneus (Ridgw.).—BRONZED GRACKLE.

Lincoln, West Point, Omaha, Fremont, etc.—breeds (L. Bruner); "Summer resident, common, probably remains in the state during winter" (Taylor); "West to the Rocky mountains" (Goss); Beatrice, De Witt—breeding (A. S. Pearse); Omaha—nesting (L. Skow); Peru, breeds occasionally (G. A. Coleman); Cherry county—breeds (J. M. Bates); Gage county—breeds (F. A. Colby); "common summer resident, dates same as the preceding species" (I. S. Trostler); Lincoln, March 25, 28 (D. A. Haggard).

Mr. Beal, in his summary of the food-habit study of the Crow-blackbirds, says of them: "From the foregoing results it appears that if the mineral element be rejected as not properly forming a part of the diet, the food of the Crow-blackbird for the whole year consists of animal and vegetable matter in nearly equal proportions. Of the animal component twenty-three twenty-fourths are insects, and of the insects five-sixths are noxious species. The charge that the blackbird is a habitual robber of other bird’s nests seems to be disproved by the stomach examinations."


"Of the vegetable food it has been found that corn constitutes half and other grain one-fourth. Oats are seldom eaten except in April and August, and wheat in July and August. Fruit is eaten in such moderate quantities that it has no economic importance, particularly in view of the fact that so little belongs to cultivated varieties." * * *

"Upon the whole, Crow-blackbirds are so useful that no general war of extermination should be waged against them. While it must be admitted that at times they injure crops, such depredations can usually be prevented. On the other hand, by destroying insects they do incalculable good."


Back to Legacy.
© 2001, Lynn Waterman