Just the mention of the name conjures notions of fear and loathing in some folks, like farmers.
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) Male (click on photos for full sized images)
This time of year, Red-winged Blackbirds are gathering on nesting grounds in wetlands but also in uplands and agricultural habitats.
In about six to eight weeks, depending on your location, you may see females with beaks full of insects like this one on her way to feed hatchlings.
Right now though, you would most probably see flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds preparing to mate and nest.
The male will perch atop cattails in wetlands (above) and stake out his territory. He will also chase females with his bright epaulets displayed during mating season.
The juvenile male is not a threat to the adult male’s territory and seldom elicits a response.
Red-winged Blackbirds are known for their polygynous social system where the male may have as many as fifteen females nesting in his territory…
and so the male defends his territory with several different displays.
The most common of these displays is the “Song Spread” sometimes used with no provocation.
He will also use a “Crouch” display, lowering his head with epaulets erected and wings drooped.
Here he is in full song mode. I don’t know if he is singing to a female or simply singing because another male flew over his territory. Sometimes the male Red-winged Blackbird will sing with no obvious recipients in sight!
Here are a couple of videos of male Red-winged Blackbirds singing. The first was shot at Delevan National Wildlife Refuge where the photos were taken. The male in this first video was a bit shy compared to the male in the above photos who came in later. You will notice that this male doesn’t erect his epaulets in a full display. He may be a younger male or just not sure of himself in this situation.
This male was taped at Lema Ranch and shows a full Song Spread display as he sings. You will also hear a strange call in the background which is a Great-tailed Grackle.
I was rather distraught when I read Birdchick’s post recently and discovered that not thousands but millions of Red-winged Blackbirds are grouped with European Starlings and killed by the United States Department of Agriculture every year! There were some interesting comments on that post you might want to read also.