A female dickcissel with her beak full of nesting material momentarily perches on a plant stem just before dropping down into the thick prairie grasses to continue the work on her ground nest.

The ground nest is a large cup consisting of weeds and grasses with the softer material on the interior that will hold the brood. The nest will hold three to six tiny light blue eggs that will hatch in about 13 days.

Nearby, the male aggressively guards his claimed territory, keeping intruders out that dare to venture too close. The female does all the work of building the nest and caring for the young. It seems that the male dickcissel’s only job is to guard the chosen nesting territory.

The male might breed with other females that are attracted to his perfect nesting habitat after the first female is on the nest according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The dickcissels arrive here in northern Illinois toward the end of May.

The male dickcissels claim a territory where they sing practically nonstop from their perch on a tall prairie plant or the limb of a short shrub, as they try to entice the females. The persistent songs of these sparrow-sized grassland birds are common across the springtime prairies and rural agricultural areas of Illinois. The familiar sounds that echo from this little bird can easily identify the vocalist by this mnemonic pattern of “dick, dick, sizzle, sizzle.”

By November, the dickcissels have gone South to a more hospitable climate, where food, grasslands and farmlands are available during our winter months. The birds will winter in large flocks in southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America.

If you miss them this year, just remember, next year, near the end of May, is a great time to listen for their songs when they have returned to the springtime grasslands and prairies of Illinois.

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