The Red Winged Blackbird

Red Winged Blackbird
(Agelaius pheoniceus)

The male red winged blackbird is all black, except for a patch of bright red on his shoulder that is edged in yellow. Males are between 8-9 inches long. His female counterpart is smaller (6-7 inches) and looks nothing like him. She is mottle brown with a streaked underbody and faint red shoulder patch.

This blackbird prefers cattail marshes, wet meadows, and shrubs near shorelines. They sometimes are also found in upland areas of meadow and open farm fields.

What Do They Eat?

Mostly seeds, grain (especially corn), insects and spiders. The diet of male and females differ slightly. Females will consume more weed seeds, whie the male consumes more waste corn. During the breeding season they eat mostly insects, but during winter they turn mostly to seeds and grains. Blackbirds will come to birdfeeders for cracked corn and seeds.

Nesting & Mating

Males attract females for mating by having large and attractive territories with plentiful resources. They also use their short raspy song and bright red shoulder pathces to attract females for mating. Male red-winged blackbirds have large territories in which as many as 15 females may nest. Although most male territories contain only about 5 females that usually mate with the male in that territory, but may also mate with other males.

After mating, between March and May, the female begins the task of weaving her basket shaped nest of cattail stalks and grasses. There she will lay three to five green-blue, dark streaked, eggs. The female incubates the eggs for 10-12 days. The chicks fledge after about 2 weeks and are ready to fend for themselves 2-3 weeks later. They will not reach adulthood for 2-3 years.

Red Winged Blackbird Facts

  • These birds are polgynous, averaging 3 mates per breeding season.
  • In fall, huge flocks, sometimes in the thousands, will congregate and roost together.
  • They will often fued with Marsh Wrens in their territory, often eating each others eggs.
  • Males return north in the spring before of the females and migrate south after the females in the fall.

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