The Red-Winged Blackbird's Story
A New World Blackbird
Today, I will discuss one of the New World Blackbirds, the Red-Winged Blackbird. This particular family includes meadowlarks, orioles, cowbirds, and grackles. The predominant colors are black and brown in this family, many species are also marked with areas of red, yellow and bright orange. Another family characteristic is a cone-shaped pointed bill. They are migratory and live in trees, bushes, and both near and over both fresh and brackish water, fields, thickets, and even without a nest. You will meet one of the Icterid family in this article.
How to Tell Male From Female
This is probably one of the most numerous land birds on this continent, and is an aggressive defender of its territory from intruders. The sexes differ markedly with this particular bird and I will show you examples of both the male and the female. The male has a characteristic red shoulder patch with broad yellow tips. Now, the female has dark brown upperparts and heavily brown and white streaked underparts. She will sometimes show a red tinge on her wings where the male has the red and yellow shoulder patch, but that is not always to be depended upon. Males will resemble females up to a year of age but have much less streaking and there is a little red on their shoulders. They acquire that beautiful, glossy black plumage after their second year.
What Do I Like to Eat?
When foraging on the ground, they will run or hop. Their diet consist chiefly of berries, seeds, wild fruit and a few grains. In the warmer weather, they will also eat insects, grubs, spiders, caterpillars, snails and mollusks. They will come to feeders for seed and breadcrumbs. There is a hierarchy with the males: the more red on their shoulder the more dominant they are.
The flight pattern is very strong with rapid wing beats. Displaying males fly with slow, stiff and shallow wing beats with the red shoulder patches raised. They are very gregarious and like to be noticed.
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What My Nest Is Like
Nests are cup shaped and deep, and I have found many near or over the water attached with plant fibers to sturdy reeds. They tend to use dried cattail leaves and line the inner part of the nest with fine materials, like grass and rush. The nests will be found in dense grass, trees, bushes and even on the ground. The nest is generally built by the female, though I do know of one instance where a young male built one, but I will leave that to inexperience. They usually lay 4 eggs that are pale blue-green with spots or brown, purple, or black zigzags.
My Secret Life
The Red-winged Blackbird is a highly polygynous species, meaning males have many female mates – up to 15 in some cases. In some populations 90 percent of territorial males have more than one female nesting on their territories. But all is not as it seems: one-quarter to one-half of nestlings turn out to have been sired by someone other than the territorial male. The oldest recorded Red-winged Blackbird was 15 years 9 months old. Red-winged Blackbirds roost in flocks in all months of the year. In summer small numbers roost in the wetlands where the birds breed. Winter flocks can be congregations of several million birds, including other blackbird species and starlings. Each morning the roosts spread out, traveling as far as 50 miles to feed, then re-forming at night.
A Humorous Story
I was out and about one day, and had located a beautiful hawk, who was looking for something to eat. A male Red-Winged Blackbird soon came on the scene and harassed this hawk to no end. He did all he could to try to chase him out of the area and made so many alarm calls, that there was no bird on the northeast side of Boomer Lake that would have missed him. About 20 minutes later, the hawk returned to the area, but that tenacious little blackbird was right on his tail again, just like a fly on molasses.
So there you have it. A few facts and a humorous story all in one place. I hope your encounters with birds are just as good as mine.