Most people are familiar with male red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) with their glossy black plumage and red and yellow shoulder patches. Streaky brown, resembling a large sparrow, female red-wings are less flashy and much more difficult to identify.
Range maps show red-winged blackbirds as year-long residents of our area. However, at 4,200 feet elevation, winters here in Big Valley can be very severe. Our “resident” red-winged blackbirds disappear in the winter and return early in the spring, probably only migrating to lower elevations nearby. The males return first, many congregating in the hybrid poplars surrounding our house. I love the cacophony of their calls. Soon the males move to the wildlife area across the road and claim territory amid the wetlands and cattail marshes. Of course, they make a mess of our house and windows with their “splashes” before leaving. In a couple weeks the females invade our trees and spend a few days before joining the males.
Red-winged blackbirds usually feed on insects in the summer and seeds in the winter. Our poplars are currently in bloom. The female red-wings are vigorously picking around the buds. I do not know if they are eating insects on the buds or are after the sweet nectar coating the buds. Soon the females will leave and begin to court and nest nearby. Then I can wash the windows.
These female red-winged blackbirds were photographed on the hybrid poplars around our house near Lookout CA (Modoc County).
More information about red-winged blackbirds and pictures of the males can be found in a previous post. (Red-winged Blackbird on 02-21-2012)