Plants and Animals

Spiza americana Dickcissel

species photo
Dan Suida

Key Characteristics

The Dickcissel is a relatively large sparrow-like bird with distinctive plumage. The males have a bright yellow breast with a black V across the throat, gray on the cheek, crown, and back of the neck, and yellow above the eye and behind the lower bill on either side of the throat. The rufus shoulders are visible while the birds are perched or in flight. Females have an overall similar coloration pattern although much more muted and generally more gray.

Status and Rank

US Status:
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
St. Joseph12006
Van Buren52017

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


While Dickcissels may use a wide variety of natural grassland communities they may also be found in agricultural settings with similar vegetation structure like pastures, hayfields, and old fields with occasional shrubs. They may use open savanna less commonly.

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

The early and frequent mowing of hay and alfalfa fields is a significant threat to Dickcissels on their breeding grounds. Vegetation management like mowing and brush clearing should be conducted outside the nesting period to avoid the loss of nests, eggs, and chicks. Prescribed burning may also be used to set back succession in order to maintain a grassland but should be conducted in the fall to allow the herbaceous vegetation to regrow before the birds return the following spring and avoid the direct losses associated with mowing.

Active Period

Migration from fourth week of April to second week of May

Nesting from first week of May to fourth week of June

Migration from fourth week of July to first week of September

Survey Methods

Point counts in or transects through suitable habitat are the best survey method for Dickcissels. Listen for the characteristic "dick dick dick ciss-ciss-ciss" song that gives the bird its name or look for adults perched on grasses, forbs, fenceposts, or low shrubs.

Point count, transect

Survey Period: From first week of May to fourth week of June

Time of Day: Morning (sunrise)


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Brewer, R., G. A. McPeek, and R. J. Adams Jr., eds. 1991. The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Michigan. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing. 650pp.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, Toronto. 544pp.