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Bullock's Oriole.jpg
Adult male Bullock's oriole
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Emberizoidea
Family: Icteridae
Vigors, 1825

29, See text

Icterids (/ˈɪktərɪd/) or New World blackbirds make up a family, the Icteridae (/ɪkˈtɛrɪdi/), of small to medium-sized, often colorful, New World passerine birds. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange, or red. The species in the family vary widely in size, shape, behavior, and coloration. The name, meaning "jaundiced ones" (from the prominent yellow feathers of many species) comes from the Ancient Greek ikteros via the Latin ictericus. This group includes the New World blackbirds, New World orioles, the bobolink, meadowlarks, grackles, cowbirds, oropendolas, and caciques.

Despite the similar names, the first groups are only distantly related to the Old World common blackbird (a thrush) or the Old World orioles.

The Icteridae are not to be confused with the Icteriidae, a family created in 2017 and consisting of one species — the yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens).[1]


Most icterid species live in the tropics, although many species also occur in temperate regions, such as the red-winged blackbird and the long-tailed meadowlark. The highest densities of breeding species are found in Colombia and southern Mexico.[2] They inhabit a range of habitats, including scrub, swamp, forest, and savanna.[3] Temperate species are migratory, with many species that nest in the United States and Canada moving south into Mexico and Central America.

Breeding male Brewer's blackbird apparently gaping (see text) in soil

Icterids are variable in size, and often display considerable sexual dimorphism, with brighter coloration and greater size in males being typical. While such dimorphism is widely known in passerines, the sexual dimorphism by size is uniquely extreme in icterids. For example, the male great-tailed grackle is 60% heavier than the female. The smallest icterid species is the orchard oriole, in which the female averages 15 cm in length (6 in) and 18 g (0.040 lb) in weight, while the largest is the Amazonian oropendola, the male of which measures 52 cm (20 in) and weighs about 550 g (1.21 lb). This variation is greater than in any other passerine family (unless the kinglet calyptura belongs with the cotingas, which would then have greater variation[4]). One unusual morphological adaptation shared by the icterids is gaping, where the skull is configured to allow them open their bills strongly rather than passively, allowing them to force open gaps to obtain otherwise hidden food.

Icterids have adapted to taking a wide range of foods. Oropendolas and caciques use their gaping motion to open the skins of fruit to obtain the soft insides, and have long bills adapted to the process. Others such as cowbirds and the bobolink have shorter, stubbier bills for crushing seeds. The Jamaican blackbird uses its bill to pry amongst tree bark and epiphytes, and has adopted the evolutionary niche filled elsewhere in the Neotropics by woodcreepers. Orioles drink nectar.

The nesting habits of these birds are also variable, including pendulous woven nests in the oropendolas and orioles. Many icterids are colonial, nesting in colonies of up to 100,000 birds. Some cowbird species engage in brood parasitism; females lay their eggs in the nests of other species, in a similar fashion to some cuckoos.[3]

Some species of icterid have become agricultural pests; for example, red-winged blackbirds in the United States are considered the worst vertebrate pests on some crops, such as rice.[5] The cost of controlling blackbirds in California was $30 per acre in 1994. Not all species have been as successful, and a number of species are threatened with extinction. These include insular forms such as the Jamaican blackbird, yellow-shouldered blackbird, and St Lucia oriole, all threatened by habitat loss; and the tricolored blackbird of California, which is threatened by habitat loss and destruction of nests.


Cacique and oropendola species are called paucar or similar names in Peru.[6][7] As paucares are considered very intelligent, Native Americans feed the brains to their children to make them fast learners.[8] As the male plays no part in nesting and care of the young, a man who does not work may be called a "male paucar".[9]


For more details, see List of icterid species.


Image Genus Living Species
Bobolink at Lake Woodruff (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) - Flickr - Andrea Westmoreland.jpg Dolichonyx Swainson, 1827
Blackbird tricolored male summer california monte-m-taylor.jpg Agelaius Vieillot, 1816
DRAGON Xanthopsar flavus Dario Niz.jpg Xanthopsar Ridgway, 1901
Yellow-winged Blackbird.jpg Agelasticus Cabanis, 1851
Chrysomus icterocephalus (Monjita pantanera) (8) (14420579547).jpg Chrysomus Swainson, 1837
Nesopsar nigerrimus.jpg Nesopsar P.L. Sclater, 1859
Sturnella magna -Mexico-8.jpg Sturnella Vieillot, 1816
Sturnella superciliaris -Vale do Ribeira, Registro, Sao Paulo, Brazil -8.jpg Leistes Vigors, 1825
Yellow-Headed Blackbird "Posing" for the Camera (22727158809).jpg Xanthocephalus Bonaparte, 1850
Tordo Cantor - panoramio.jpg Dives Cassin, 1867
Euphagus cyanocephalus -California -USA-6a.jpg Euphagus Cassin, 1867
Quiscalus major -Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Florida, USA -male-8.jpg Quiscalus Vieillot, 1816
Grayish baywing.jpg Agelaioides Cassin, 1866
Molothrus ater 2.jpg Molothrus Swainson, 1832
Icterus pustulatus 1.jpg Icterus Brisson, 1760
Amblycercus holosericeus.jpg Amblycercus Cabanis, 1851
  • yellow-billed cacique, Amblycercus holosericeus
Mexican Cacique (Cacicus melanicterus) (8079400090).jpg Cassiculus Swainson, 1827
  • Mexican cacique or yellow-winged cacique, Cassiculus melanicterus
Yellow-rumped cacique 10.jpg Cacicus Lacepede, 1799
Montezuma Oropendola (16426688906).jpg Psarocolius Wagler, 1827
Gymnomystax mexicanus - Tordo maicero - Venezuela.jpg Gymnomystax L. Reichenbach, 1850
CHOPIM-DO-BREJO (Pseudoleistes guirahuro)2.jpg Pseudoleistes P.L. Sclater, 1862
Scarlet-headed Blackbird - Pantanal - Brazil MG 9585 (23262522193).jpg Amblyramphus Leach, 1814
Red-bellied Grackle - Medellin - Colombia S4E5638 (23889365655).jpg Hypopyrrhus Bonaparte, 1850
Curaeus curaeus - Flickr - Dick Culbert.jpg Curaeus (PL Sclater, 1862)
Anumara Powell et al., 2014
Chopi Blackbird.jpg Gnorimopsar Richmond, 1908
Oreopsar WL Sclater, 1939
Lampropsar Cabanis, 1847
Columbian Mountain Grackle (Macroagelaius subalaris) (8079736640).jpg Macroagelaius Cassin, 1866

Prehistoric icterid genera that have been described from Pleistocene fossil remains are Pandanaris from Rancho La Brea and Pyelorhamphus from Shelter Cave.


  1. ^ Chesser, R. Terry; Burns, Kevin J.; Cicero, Carla; Dunn, Jon L.; Kratter, Andrew W.; Lovette, Irby J.; Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Remsen, J. V.; Rising, James D. (2017). "Fifty-eighth supplement to the American Ornithological Society's Check-list of North American Birds". The Auk. 134 (3): 751–773. doi:10.1642/auk-17-72.1.
  2. ^ Lowther P (1975) "Geographic and Ecological Variation in the Family Icteridae" Wilson Bulletin 87 (4): 481-495
  3. ^ a b Parkes, Kenneth C. (1991), Forshaw, Joseph (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds, London: Merehurst Press, pp. 214–215, ISBN 1-85391-186-0
  4. ^ Prum, Richard O.; Snow, David W. (2003), "Cotingas", in Christopher Perrins (ed.), Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds, Firefly Books, pp. 432–433, ISBN 1-55297-777-3
  5. ^ Dolbeer, R & S Ickes (1994) "Red-winged Blackbird feeding preferences and response to wild rice treated with Portland cement or plaster" Vertebrate Pest Conference Proceedings collection Proceedings of the Sixteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference (1994) (W.S. Halverson& A.C. Crabb, Eds.) Univ. of Calif.:Davis.
  6. ^ Manu Peru Manu - Aves, Enjoy Corporation S. A., 2007, archived from the original on 2006-02-25, retrieved 2007-09-28
  7. ^ Muyuna Amazon Lodge, Iquitos - Peru, retrieved 2007-09-28. Click the link to Fauna and scroll forward one page.
  8. ^ Moyobamba - Peru, 2007, archived from the original on 2008-01-06, retrieved 2007-09-28. The source given is Moyobamba, apuntes turísticos y geográficos by Pedro Vargas Roja.
  9. ^ Aves en Soritor - Distrito de soritor Moyobamba - Alto Mayo - San Martín - Peru, 2006, retrieved 2007-09-28

Further reading[edit]

  • Powell, A.F.L.A.; Barker, F.K.; Lanyon, S.M.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lovette, I.J. (2014). "A comprehensive species-level molecular phylogeny of the New World blackbirds (Icteridae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 71: 94–112. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.11.009. PMID 24291659.
  • Remsen, J.V. Jr.; Powell, A.F.L.A.; Schodde, R.; Barker, F.K.; Lanyon, S.M. (2016). "A revised classification of the Icteridae (Aves) based on DNA sequence data". Zootaxa. 4093 (2): 285–292. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4093.2.9. PMID 27394496.

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