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What is a Red-Winged Blackbird?

The Red-Winged Blackbird is a striking songbird, renowned for the males' glossy black feathers and vibrant red shoulder patches. These birds are not just a visual treat; their distinct, melodic calls are a herald of spring. They play a crucial role in wetland ecosystems. Intrigued by their vivid display? Discover how they brighten our natural world.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

A red-winged blackbird is the small Agelaius phoeniceus native to North America. It's a song bird with a loud, broken sort of cry. It's a passerine bird, as its order is Passeriformes, which is made up of songbirds and perching birds. Finches, jays and warblers are examples of other Passeriformes. Icteridae is the scientific name for blackbirds.

The male red-winged blackbird is all velvety black except for its shoulders, while the female of the species is an allover mottled brown. These shoulders, or epaulettes, have an orange-red triangular patch on the upper part with a cream section beneath it. This bird is often mistaken for the tri-colored blackbird that is approximately the same size. The difference between the two blackbirds is quite subtle, as the red-winged's epaulettes are typically an orange-red compared to the bluer red of the tri-colored blackbird. The white markings on the tri-colored blackbird's epaulettes are often less yellowish as well.

Female red-winged blackbirds commonly make their nests in cattails.
Female red-winged blackbirds commonly make their nests in cattails.

Although the Agelaius phoeniceus blackbird is North American, it's also found in Central America. During the summer months, the red-winged blackbird population is mainly in Canada. In winters, red-winged blackbirds prefer the climates of Mexico and Central America. The rest of the year, Agelaius phoeniceus is mostly in the United States. Marshes and fields are the preferred habitats of red-winged blackbirds, but they also live in grassy, upland areas as well.

Other than the distinctively colored shoulder markings that differentiate the red-winged blackbird from other species, it also has a loud cry and can be aggressively protective of its territory. Red-winged blackbirds will even try to attack large animals as well as humans in order to protect their nests. They have a unique running and hopping gait when looking for food at ground level. Red-winged blackbirds feed on grains, seeds and berries as well as a variety of insects.

Agelaius pheniceus birds average about 8 inches (20 cm) in length, with the female being slightly smaller in size. Red-winged blackbirds are typically part of large flocks which may include other types of blackbirds. These flocks may include several million birds for both roosting and migrating. They are known to share their roots with other species of bird.

The female red-winged blackbird builds the nest from grass in bushes or cattails. She lays up to about five eggs that are light blue with purple and brown markings. Within 15 days, the young red-winged blackbirds are ready to leave the nest temporarily. They don't leave the nest permanently for about another three weeks.

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    • Female red-winged blackbirds commonly make their nests in cattails.
      By: Jim Mills
      Female red-winged blackbirds commonly make their nests in cattails.