News & Features

Dickcissel Redux

Female Dickcissel by Jake Dingel

There is another summer invasion of Dickcissels in 2013, although not as dramatic and as widespread as 2012. Yet, this influx may be more telling of “normal  Dickcissel” populations in the state with some returning to locations occupied in 2012 or prior years. There are fewer sightings than in 2013, but the fact that Dickcissels have returned to some locations suggests some breeding site fidelity that implies good nesting habitat. Last year the many sightings by multiple birders failed to generate many breeding confirmations. There were nesting confirmations only at the Curlsville Strips in Clarion County; the  West Lebanon Strips in Indiana Co; Middle Creek  Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster Co.; and at a Montgomery Co. site. These were good to find, but we wonder if Dickcissels failed to nest at other locations or did birders fail to observe or report breeding behavior?  Did  vegetation management other factors prevent any nesting success?  This Pennsylvania-Threatened species is one of several grassland birds that concern conservationists. The pattern of colonization and possible site fidelity brings hope for localized successful nesting and establishment of stable populations. The consistent return of this somewhat nomadic grassland bird makes it a “keeper” for conservation efforts. We thank the many birders who have entered Dickcissel sightings to eBird and posted their sightings to the PA Birds listserv.  So far, there are good reports for 6 counties this summer. We are requesting additional reports of Dickcissel sightings and encouraging return visits to locations where Dickcissels have been found earlier this season as well as last year.  Extra details added to the Comments field are greatly appreciated. 

So far in 2013, Dickcissels have been reported in 6 counties: Crawford and Clarion in the Northwest, Franklin and Cumberland in the Southcentral, and Lancaster and Berks in the Southeast.  The 2013 Dickcissel hotposts included the Curlsville Strips (Clarion),  the Pymatuning area (Crawford), and the farmland east of Hamburg (Berks).  There may be more hotspots and Dickcissel activity that we are just not aware of yet this year.

 Thanks, too, for the great photos by Nick Pulcinella at a Berks County location and by Shawn Collins and Jeff McDonald at a Clarion County grasslands. The photo feature for our state portal allows these photos to be shared.

 Dickcissels may nest multiple times and into late summer, so, there is still time to find these rare breeding birds in a grassy meadow, uncut hay field, weedy pasture or in the reclaimed grasslands of surface mines. Just a reminder, in 2012, Dickcissels were recorded in 19 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.  In recent years, Dickcissels have been returning fairly regularly to several locations in Lancaster, Cumberland and Franklin counties.

 A visit to one of these areas mentioned in this article, or perhaps a follow-up on a successful outing earlier this year, may be well worth the trip. Dickcissels may nest multiple times and into late summer, so, there is still time to find this rare breeding bird singing “dick-dick-dick-ciss-ciss-cissel” over a grassy meadow, uncut hay field or roadside corridor.

 Remember to log your Dickcissel observations into eBird and please include the following information: sighting date; precise location (coordinates are best); number and sex of individual Dickcissels found at a site. 

Thorough accounts are most valuable and include the following information: sighting date; precise location (GPS coordinates are best); number and sex of individual Dickcissels found at a site; a habitat description, noting land use and private or public ownership if known; and a description of behavior observed, particularly in the form of Atlas Breeding Codes¾confirmation of a nesting pair may be as subtle as an adult carrying an insect in its bill. Dickcissel observations submitted via PA eBird provide this needed information when the above details are entered in the “Breeding Codes” and “Comments” fields.    We appreciate all of the submission to PA eBird: http://ebird.org/content/pa

 You may also submit your Dickcissel observations directly to Kathy Korber, a biological aide of our Wildlife Diversity section, at: kkorber@embarqmail.com

 For more information on Dickcissel and other endangered species please visit the PGC website: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=621014&mode=2

 By Doug Gross and Kathy Korber

Photo of a female Dickcissel by Jacob Dingel of the PGC.