The Red-Winged Blackbird

By Dave Hanks
12/8/11

If you find yourself by a marsh or wet meadow and you hear something that sounds like a telephone ringing, you are hearing the call of a Red-Winged Blackbird. It is an easy call to identify, and this species is easily the most common blackbird in our locale. It is 7 to 9 inches long, which is slightly smaller than a robin, with a bright red shoulder patch that is trimmed in yellow. This is slightly different from its look-alike, the Tri-Colored Blackbird, whose red wing patches are trimmed in white. The female and young are heavily streaked with dusky brown very different from the adult male.

Cattail marsh is their primary habitat, but they will also nest in woody swamps, hay fields, by irrigation canals and roadside ditches. Even though they nest in groups, they are very protective of their territory. They need some immerging vegetation to perch and sing from, and will do everything they can to be noticed. They can be very belligerent, and I have had them dive-bomb my head when I was too close to their space. They regularly mob any raptor in their vicinity a common scene.

Red-Wings raise 2 to 3 broods a year and will build a new nest for each brood. This is a sanitation practice against a nest becoming infected by parasites that could kill the baby birds. They will feed on almost anything and can be a real nuisance at your bird feeders.

After the breeding season, they gather in huge flocks with other blackbirds and starlings. During migration, this bird can travel over 30 miles per hour.

It is so common that it is hard to appreciate, but when it displays, and you can readily see the bright red wing patches, it is an attractive individual.

(Red wings on display)


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