Bird Profile: Red-winged Blackbird

Up here in the northern part of the continent, we know when spring is here when the robins arrive. These are not the only harbingers of warmer days however; the Red-winged Blackbird heralds the arrival of spring as well, the males arriving before the females to claim their territory.

One of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America, the male is a striking bird; all-black plumage save for his bright red and yellow wing epaulets. The female is a heavily streaked brown bird with a light streak over the crown and above the eye. Males have harems of females living in their marshes, these harems can sometimes number up to 15, but up to one half of the nestlings turn out to be sired by a male other than the territorial bird. During the breeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds are rarely seen far from water and are communal nesters, often nesting alongside other species of blackbirds. Once nesting is over, the Red-winged Blackbird forms flocks and go out to forage over the countryside, returning to marshes to roost at night.

Red-winged blackbirds are a common victim of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird but this does not seem to affect the former`s numbers. The young are mostly fed insects, and this is exactly what the female Red-winged Blackbird pictured above is doing; she is feeding insects to a fledgling hidden in the grass. The male does a remarkable job and helps feed  the fledglings in is territory; there can be quite a few young birds to feed!

Red-winged Blackbirds may be seen at any marsh, lake or pond in Calgary with cattails and bulrushes. Don`t forget to listen; you can always tell if there is a Red-winged Blackbird nearby if you can hear the males distinctive “Conk-la-ree“ song.

Posted by Matthew Sim

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4 thoughts on “Bird Profile: Red-winged Blackbird

  1. We generally have dozens of red winged blackbirds in my neighbourhood in NW Calgary, but this year I haven’t seen or even heard one. Do you know what’s up?

    • I haven’t heard of anything like this and there seem to be the usual numbers of RWBL around the area this year. Have there been any changes to the ponds there? Is there water and cattails? Which neighbourhood is it?

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