Red-Winged Blackbird

Bird of the Month: Red-Winged Blackbird

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Red-winged Blackbird)

PC: Mick Thompson (Red-winged Blackbird)

Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus

Length 8.75 in

AOU Band code RWBL

The Red-winged Blackbird (RWBL) is about 8-3/4" long. They are well known by the male’s orange-red shoulder patches with yellow lower edge. The females are brown above and heavily streaked below, with a buffy-to-whitish eyebrow and a sharp pointed bill. The females resemble large streaked sparrows. Immature males are similar to adult females, but are darker with a more orange shoulder patch bordered with white. Immature females are like the adult female. RWBLs are abundant and aggressive and often found in huge flocks, except when nesting. They begin establishing territories when the days start getting longer in late Jan. Males have territories of 1/8-1/4 acres which they defend by singing from perches with wings spread open and the red shoulder patches exposed. But, they can conceal the red patch and only show the yellow border. The RWBL’s song is a liquid, gurgling konk-la-ree. Its most common call is a chack note.

They eat insects and weed seeds, and will come to feeders for cracked corn and seed mixes. It usually nests in thick vegetation of freshwater marshes, sloughs, and dry fields. It forages in surrounding fields, orchards and woodlands. Nests are made of reeds and grasses lined with finer material, placed in reeds and grasses or shrubs about 3-8 ft. high. The males are polygymous, averaging 3 mates each breeding season. The female lays 3-5 eggs, pale greenish blue with dark marks. The eggs hatch in 11 days and the young fledge after about 11 days. Females may have 2-3 broods a season.