Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus, family Icteridae, a passerine bird.

Above: drawings/photo-painting; (far left) Male red-winged blackbird, The nest, (right) Female red-winged blackbird. Artist: Brenda Sherburn

These well decorated birds are the most abundant birds in North America and the best-studied wild bird species in the world. They are found in wetlands and agricultural areas across the entire continent. There are lots of stories around this bird. It important to know the science but some birds people form strong opinions from unexplained experiences. To some it’s a bad omen but then I remember someone saying that this blackbird with red wings brings the lessons learned in meditation and contemplation. The female is associated with summer energies. It is said the red-winged blackbird singing puts the listener into a trance which enables him or her to shift to the otherworld.  Its an abrupt note that turns into a musical trill. The bird is believed in some native cultures to have an ability to move between the seen and unseen worlds, sounds to me that the red-winged blackbird has mastered quantum physics.

Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species. They have been observed to have as many as a dozen females nesting in the territory of a single male. On average, a single male has roughly five females in its territory.  The male fiercely defend his territories during the breeding season. Male red-winged blackbirds return north in the spring ahead of the females and migrate south in the fall after the females. In the North, the early arrival and cascading song are happy indications of the return of spring. With flute like qualities, the distinctive male’s song during breeding season is loud and melodious.

The interesting nesting habits of the female red-winged blackbirds which build their nest in four stages. First, they weave together several supporting pieces of green foliage and then they knit the walls of the nest onto these supports. The nest cup is insulated with a layer of mud, and lastly, lining the nest with a layer of soft grasses. A clutch consists of three or four eggs. Eggs are oval, smooth and slightly glossy, pale bluish green, marked with brown, purplish markings around the larger end of the egg. These are incubated by the female alone, hatch in 11 to 12 days and are ready to leave the nest 11 to 14 days after hatching.

The male can hide the brilliant red shoulders or show them off in an official display. The female is more sparrow-like, subdued but streaky brown/blackish color. The female is smaller than the male.

The omnivorous red-winged blackbird feeds primarily on plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, but much of its diet consists of insects, increasing this source of protein considerably during breeding season. These birds flock to my bird feeders and suet, will also eat blueberries, blackberries, and other fruit in season.

Predators are common. Nest predators include snakes, mink, raccoons, and other birds.

Red-winged blackbirds often hang out with tricolored blackbirds.  You need a careful eye to notice the difference between the two. I though this might help, from audublog: May 29th, 2012 · by Garrison Frost

How to tell a Tricolored Blackbird from a Red-winged Blackbird:

“Male Tricolored Blackbirds have distinct bright red shoulder coloring, and the white is quite pronounced. The colors on the shoulder of a Male Red-wing Blackbird are a little less intense. It’s a lighter red, maybe more of an orange, and the white is more like yellow. The big giveaway is the white — if you see bright white, you’re probably looking at a Tricolored Blackbird…. Females are way trickier, because they don’t have the shoulder colors (many folks won’t even try to distinguish the two). But by and large, the female Tricoloreds are darker gray and lack the streaking and rufous colors that you’ll find in a female Red-winged Blackbird.”

2 replies
  1. kevin
    kevin says:

    Hi I am Kevin. Good write-up. I learned a couple things I didn’t know about red-winged blackbirds. Your illustrations are very nicely done. Keep posting.

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