Where to see Tricolors

Tricolored blackbirds can be notoriously difficult to find if you do not know where to look. This is due primarily to their gregarious nature, which creates large gaps where no tricolors occur punctuated by large, dense flocks consisting of hundreds, thousands, or even, during the breeding season, tens of thousands of birds. The recent, rapid decline in abundance has contributed to the difficulty in finding birds.  Here we provide some suggestions for those who have never seen tricolors or for those who would like to observe them in new locations or at different times of the year. If you are patient and seek tricolors in the right locations at the right time of year, you may be rewarded by seeing (and hearing) many thousands of birds. We only consider California, where over 99% of tricolors occur.

Breeding Season

The tricolor's breeding season extends from mid-March through May from southern California to the northern San Joaquin Valley and from mid-May through July in the Sacramento Valley.

Southern California

The tricolor is difficult to find in southern California at all times of the year due to the severe reduction in its abundance over the past century. Once the most abundant bird species in southern California, the tricolor is now found in only a few locations and the entire southern California population segment numbered about 12,000 birds in 2017.

  • Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve, San Diego County

  • Santa Ysabel Ranch, Hwy. 79 and Mesa Grande Road, San Ysabel, San Diego County

  • Borrego Springs Country Club, Borrego Springs, San Diego County

  • Hemet Water Treatment Plant, Riverside County

  • San Jacinto Wildlife Area, Riverside County (may be best place in entire region during breeding season)

  • Holiday Lake, Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County

  • Fairmont Resevoir, Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County

  • Leona Valley, Los Angeles County

  • Quail Lake, Hwy. 138, Los Angeles County

Central Valley

The tricolor is confined to numerous large breeding colonies during the breeding season in the Central Valley. Many of these occur on private property and access is limited. The following list provides sites where breeding tricolors may be observed during a typical year and where observations may be made from public roads or on protected areas.

  • Kern National Wildlife Refuge, Kern County
  • Wind Wolves Preserve, Kern County
  • Pixley Wildlife Refuge, Kern County
  • Little Panoche Road, Fresno County
  • Panoche Road, San Benito County
  • Sandy Mush Road, Merced County
  • Basalt Road at the base of San Luis Reservoir Dam, Merced County
  • Los Banos Wildlife Area, Merced County
  • Merced National Wildlife Refuge, Merced County
  • Hwy. 104 (Twin Cities Road) at Clay Station Road and Rancho Seco Park, Sacramento County
  • East Florin Road near Sunrise Blvd., Sacramento County
  • Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, Yolo County
  • Colusa and Delevan National Wildlife Refuges, Colusa County
  • Lurline Road, Colusa County
  • Hwy. 162 between Willows and U.S. Hwy. 99, Glenn County
  • Openshaw Road, Butte County

Non-breeding Season

Tricolors are nomadic during the non-breeding season, so it is not possible to provide specific locations where flocks of birds may be seen. In most cases, tricolors will occur in multi-species foraging and roosting flocks with several other species of blackbirds, including Brewer's, red-winged, and yellow-headed, as well as European starlings. Daytime foraging flocks frequently occur in association with livestock, and winter roosts, such as that near Sherman Island, occur in wetlands or in other emergent vegetation.

Southern California

  • Leona Valley, Los Angeles County

  • Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County

  • San Jacinto Valley, Riverside County

Central Valley

  • Sandy Mush Road, Merced County

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

  • Bird's Landing and nearby, Solano County
  • Sherman Island, Sandy Beach Campground, at the end of Sherman Island Road, Sacramento County

Central Coast

  • Outer Peninsula, Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County (autumn and early winter)