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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Aug 19, 2010

Red-winged Blackbird

Clinging to the top
Where ever there is water nearby you will hear the distinct call of the Red-winged Blackbird.  The male of this species, if it is a northern bird, is the first to arrive in spring signaling the beginning of migration, with the female approximately three weeks behind him.  They are also the first to depart, usually in September or October, but their departure can be as early as August, which is unfortunately what has happened this year.  I for one always welcome their arrival, as it means that warmer weather and many more outdoor activities are ahead and I always mark their disappearance with a certain amount of sadness.

Red winged Blackbird gliding

Many Blackbirds
The Red-winged Blackbird is the one bird that I can count on seeing constantly in spring and summer, because I tend to visit local ponds and waterways often in hopes of spying a new and unfamiliar species of bird.  It is no wonder really, since they are one of the most abundant species of birds around.  Their loud, welcoming song can be heard quite a distance before one actually reaches the area they have chosen for their nesting sites, as it has a bell like quality.  I quite enjoy watching their energetic antics, as they can be very entertaining.  This is especially true in the spring, when you can watch the males competing for the best vantage point to display their mating dance for the female amongst the branches of trees and bushes, as well as the rushes.

Courtship display

This particular black bird prefers to reside near any body of water, both salt water and fresh, large or small.  In fact I have seen them residing in ditches along roadsides.  However, they can apparently also be observed in open and dry grassy areas away from water.   If you are looking out for this bird, you will find them almost anywhere from Alaska to Newfoundland, and south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

IN flight

Courtship display

Having observed them foraging on the ground, I already knew that their diet, like that of many birds consists mostly seed and insects, but I have discovered, that they will also eat berries, snails, frogs and waste grains such as corn and rice, and can be seen descending on open fields in company with grackles, cowbirds and starlings in flocks numbering in the thousands.   Also, a co-worker of mine mentioned that they attend her backyard feeders, although unfortunately she considers them to be a pest.  I have seen these small  birds, usually the male, aggressively attack and harass crows, and I have learned that they will also attack ravens and raptors, both to defend their territory and protect their nests, which is amazing really when you consider how much smaller these birds are in comparison to ravens, crows and hawks.
Red-winged Blackbird in pursuit of  female
Attacking a crow

During my research, I learned that they raise two or three clutches of young per season and nest in loose colonies amongst waterside reeds, sometimes in groups, to better defend the nests from the many predators that prey on their young, from snakes and racoons to other birds, such as the common grackle, marsh wrens and crows.  I have never actually seen their nests, but you can usually get an approximate location from the agitated reaction of the male, especially if the female also gets agitated and tries to lure you away.  Their young fledge, incredibly, in just twelve days.  Unlike many birds, the Red-winged black bird is highly adaptable and quickly makes use of any newly created wetland or other suitable habitat.

Follow these links if you wish more information on this highly energetic bird:


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