Red-winged Blackbird

Another sign of spring – all of our windows are covered with white streaks!

The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is one of the most abundant North American birds, found throughout the year in large portions of the United States. Northern populations migrate short distances in the winter, while more southerly red-wings remain in place. Although red-wings are found nearby at lower elevations during the winter, they depart from our altitude for our harshest winter months.

Like the robin, the males of this species are very familiar. Females are dark, often with lighter streaking. Males though have bright red shoulder patches or epaulets bordered in yellow that contrast strikingly with their glossy black bodies. This red epaulet can be hidden or revealed by the extent to which the male puffs up his feathers.

Red-winged blackbirds prefer open or semi-open habitats, often associated with farmland. They breed in wet places, particularly cattail marshes. Males are polygynous, often maintaining as many as fifteen females in their territory, although not all of the nests necessarily contain his offspring. During most of the breeding season the male perches high over his territory defending it while singing his heart out.

Ash Creek Wildlife Area, with its marshes and cattails, is a favorite nesting spot for red-wings. However, when the males, who seem to precede the females, return in the spring they do not go directly to their nesting area. They choose the tall trees surrounding our house. Once the females join the males, we have hundreds of birds poised over the windows and a constant barrage of “poop”. I do not even attempt to keep the windows clean. After about a month, all of the red-wings move across the road to the wildlife area and the windows no longer resemble abstract paintings. Dirty windows are a small cost for the constant cacophony of their calls, which I love. Plus, the red-wing blackbirds herald spring.

The red-wings were photographed in and near our yard (Modoc County CA). I thought the picture of the bird coming directly at the camera was interesting, his wings resembling a cape with red shoulder pads. Mount Shasta is faintly visible in the background.

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One Response to Red-winged Blackbird

  1. Pingback: Sandhill Cranes Return | The Nature Niche

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