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The Red-Winged Blackbird's Story

Updated on May 31, 2012
Male Red-Winged Blackbird
Male Red-Winged Blackbird | Source

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.

Female Red-Winged Blackbird
Female Red-Winged Blackbird | Source

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.

Source

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.

Typical Red-Winged Blackbird Nest
Typical Red-Winged Blackbird Nest | Source

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.

Source

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.

Red-Winged Blackbird Harassing Hawk
Red-Winged Blackbird Harassing Hawk | Source

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.

Source

My Song

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Kim, that was Great entertainment. Back in Maine, we had beautiful birds like that, too. Now, I have a wonderful Brown Thrasher that likes to visit. She even brought the youngster over to my place last week, just to show me. What a good girl she is.

    • klidstone1970 profile image

      இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу 4 years ago from Niagara Region, Canada

      Deb, I have quite a few red-winged black birds that make the field behind my house home. The first year we were there I had a ring-necked pheasant that would part the reeds in the field like Moses and saunter to my feeder every morning, then go to the neighbours and sprawl in their birdbath. It was hysterical. Sadly, it hasn't been seen since. We always waited for it over morning coffee and it came religiously for a year . That was entertainment!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Examiner-1. They are interesting birds, and have nests very close to one another around here. Some of them are a little on the friendly side, too.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago

      aviannovice

      I really enjoyed your Hub about the Red-winged Blackbird. I think I saw them years ago when I started bird watching but not since. :( I gave it a thumbs up and a few other marks next to that. I liked the video too.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Perry, there are lots of great apps out there now for birds so that you can look up anything now while you're out in the field. Thanks for telling me about your blackbirds.

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 4 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      Our Red Winged Blackbirds here in the Texas Panhandle don't have the yellow stripe. They are strictly red striped. I think that's an interesting mutation. However, I miss the red and yellow colors.

      There's a phone app by the Audubon Society that has birds in the USA by looks, silhouette, and songs. It's a hefty download and works best with 4G, but you can run it on 3G, it's just slow. You can even find the name of the bird by entering the characteristics. It's great fun and terrific for back yard birders (and cats)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Jackie, you could. I also photograph flowers, trees and butterflies...all living things!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I am kind of known for my flower pictures...but no birds. I think I could get a birds nest. lol

    • Suelynn profile image

      Suelynn 5 years ago from Manitoba, Canada

      I love that comment, Deb! I forget that they watch us too!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, suelynn. I have many, many stories about many different birds. It's all part of being a naturalist, that one gets into the meat-and-potatoes of the lives of these birds. While I take pictures, I also observe these wonderful birds, and naturally, they observe me.

    • Suelynn profile image

      Suelynn 5 years ago from Manitoba, Canada

      Aviannovice - it's been a while since I've managed to get back here - and I'm glad I did. Had upheavals in my life but so good to read this hub. I have many red-winged blackbirds visiting during migration and LOVE your video of him calling. I know the sound well. I did not know about the female or their nests. I thought the male of the species provided their abode! Naughty males! Lots of new and fascinating information here. I am always so impressed that you see these things for yourself. I am a pretty amateur birdwatcher. Thanks for the post and lovely photos/video. Beautiful bird.

      Warmest regards and voting up and across. :)

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, frogyfish. That's the purpose of my information, to make it clearer for everyone what some of these birds really are. They shouldn't have to be confusing for people.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Enjoyable bird info here. And you confirmed for me that the bird I keep trying to 'catch' (photograph) is indeed the female mate to a beautiful blackbird like your photo.

      Loved listening to its song.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks for mentioning your experience, aufait. I like hearing about what other people have to say, too.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      Haven't seen a red-winged blackbird in years -- not since I grew up and moved away from our family farm in Wisconsin. The red-winged blackbird used to live in our marsh and they could be seen there regularly in the spring especially.

      Great hub. Voted you up, interesting, beautiful, and awesome! Sharing with my followers.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Glad you're enjoying my rantings, molometer. I hope that I'm doing as well as Jeremy Kyle is!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I appreciate the comment, anusujith. Hope you'll read the upcoming, future material, too.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Geoff! I'm learning more every day about taking pictures, and a new, retired pro photographer friend loaned me her professional camera! Can you believe someone being that kind? Hopefully, I will learn how to use this camera and get some really good shots. Wish me luck...

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this interesting birds 'lifestyle' with us. Thought I was watching the Jeremy Kyle show with all the dodgy parentage's. :)

      The Red-Winged Blackbird's Story is fascinating and the video allowed me to hear it's song for the first time.

      Voted up interesting and useful.

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 5 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Interesting hub and beautiful photos.

    • geoffclarke profile image

      geoffclarke 5 years ago from Canada

      Another very interesting hub about birds. The red-wing blackbird is a frequent visitor to my garden here in Toronto but I didn't know that they are polygynous - I learn something new everyday! Love your photos!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Pamela, I saw a couple of downed grackles, but it was too late for me to do anything, as they had passed on. The Red Winged Blackbirds have a personality all their own. Many of them just beg for attention. Thanks for the sharing, and I will be giving you plenty of reading material in the future. I was talking with a friend about some of my experiences with different birds today, and I do have a number of interesting ones.

    • aviannovice profile image
      Author

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      As always, Joyce, thanks for the great comments. I'm glad you like the photos, these are some of my early ones in here, when I first got the camera in December.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Voting up, beautiful and useful. I learned a lot from this hub you have written.

      I'm in Arizona visiting family now and the Red-Winged Blackbird loves it here in the spring. They especially like the fig trees. Their relatives, the grackles, are here in abundance. The grackles are in the lovely Palo Verde trees at every shopping mall ready to swoop in for food if someone drops anything edible.

      When we used to reside here in Arizona, this time of year was difficult because at least twice a week a baby grackle would drop into the backyard and not be able to fly over the brick wall to get out again. Sometimes the mother grackle would bring food and eventually the baby bird would gain skill and fly away. Sometimes not. I managed to get a couple of them to rehabbers. It's wonderful -- the work you do with birds. Sharing this one.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

      You do take awesome photo's and write good information. I think male bird are always the prettiest.

      Voted up and beautiful, Joyce. Have a great weekend.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Jackie. It would be great if you take pictures. It will certainly hone your skills. Glad you enjoyed that picture.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, gamby. I always enjoy hearing from you.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Again great. I am not yet trying to photograph birds but I am noticing opportunity more so I think I may capture a few shots by summer's end...fall at the latest. That 1st photo is just fantastic!

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      gamby79 5 years ago

      Always a delight reading your hubs and I always learn something new! Great pics too and the video of the red-winged blackbird and it's calls were very enjoyable.