Red-winged blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

The red-winged blackbird is a passerine bird of the family Icteridae found in most of North and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras, and northwestern Costa Rica.
Red-Winged Blackbird  Agelaius phoeniceus,Geotagged,Maryland,Red-winged blackbird,Summer,United States

Appearance

The common name for the red-winged blackbird is taken from the mainly black adult male's distinctive red shoulder patches, or "epaulets", which are visible when the bird is flying or displaying. At rest, the male also shows a pale yellow wingbar. The female is blackish-brown and paler below. The female is smaller than the male, at 17–18 cm long and weighing 41.5 g, against his length of 22–24 cm and weight of 64 g. The smallest females may weigh as little as 29 g whereas the largest males can weigh up to 82 g. Each wing can range from 8.1–14.4 cm, the tail measures 6.1–10.9 cm, the culmen measures 1.3–3.2 cm and the tarsus measures 2.1 cm.

Young birds resemble the female, but are paler below and have buff feather fringes. Both sexes have a sharply pointed bill. The tail is of medium length and is rounded. The eyes, bill, and feet are all black.

The male is unmistakable except in the far west of the US, where the tricolored blackbird occurs. Males of that species have a darker red epaulet edged with white, not yellow. Females of tricolored, bicolored, red-shouldered and red-winged blackbirds can be difficult to identify in areas where more than one form occurs. In flight, when the field marks are not easily seen, red-winged can be distinguished from less closely related Icterids such as common grackle and brown-headed cowbird by its different silhouette and undulating flight.

The calls of the red-winged blackbird are a throaty "check" and a high slurred whistle, "terrr-eeee". The male's song, accompanied by a display of his red shoulder patches, is a scratchy "oak-a-lee", except that in many western birds, including bicolored blackbirds, it is "ooPREEEEEom". The female also sings, typically a scolding chatter "chit chit chit chit chit chit cheer teer teer teerr".
Red Wing Blackbird Displays and SIngs Taken at Green Cay Wetland, South Florida, USA Agelaius phoeniceus,Red-winged blackbird

Distribution

The range of the red-winged blackbird stretches from southern Alaska to the Yucatan peninsula in the south, and from the western coast of California and Canada to the east coast of the continent. Red-winged blackbirds in the northern reaches of the range are migratory, spending winters in the southern United States and Central America. Migration begins in September or October, but occasionally as early as August. In western and middle America, populations are generally non-migratory.

The red-winged blackbird inhabits open grassy areas. It generally prefers wetlands, and inhabits both freshwater and saltwater marshes, particularly if cattail is present. It is also found in dry upland areas, where it inhabits meadows, prairies, and old fields.
Singing on a Lily Pad Redwing Blackbird - Taken in Florida USA Wetlands Agelaius phoeniceus,Geotagged,Red-winged blackbird,United States,Winter,winter

Habitat

The range of the red-winged blackbird stretches from southern Alaska to the Yucatan peninsula in the south, and from the western coast of California and Canada to the east coast of the continent. Red-winged blackbirds in the northern reaches of the range are migratory, spending winters in the southern United States and Central America. Migration begins in September or October, but occasionally as early as August. In western and middle America, populations are generally non-migratory.

The red-winged blackbird inhabits open grassy areas. It generally prefers wetlands, and inhabits both freshwater and saltwater marshes, particularly if cattail is present. It is also found in dry upland areas, where it inhabits meadows, prairies, and old fields.
Red-wings in Flight Love the flight of the red-wing with many in a similar flight pattern and rotation position. Agelaius phoeniceus,Fall,Geotagged,Red-winged blackbird,United States

Reproduction

The red-winged blackbird nests in loose colonies. The nest is built in cattails, rushes, grasses, sedge, or in alder or willow bushes. The nest is constructed entirely by the female over the course of three to six days. It is a basket of grasses, sedge, and mosses, lined with mud, and bound to surrounding grasses or branches. It is located 7.6 cm to 4.3 m above water.

A clutch consists of three or four, rarely five, eggs. Eggs are oval, smooth and slightly glossy, and measure 24.8 mm × 17.55 mm. They are pale bluish green, marked with brown, purple, and/or black, with most markings around the larger end of the egg. These are incubated by the female alone, and hatch in 11 to 12 days. Red-winged blackbirds are hatched blind and naked, but are ready to leave the nest 11 to 14 days after hatching.

Red-winged blackbirds are polygynous, with territorial males defending up to 10 females. However, females frequently copulate with males other than their social mate and often lay clutches of mixed paternity. Pairs raise two or three clutches per season, in a new nest for each clutch.

Predation of eggs and nestlings is quite common. Nest predators include snakes, mink, raccoons, and other birds, even as small as marsh wrens. The red-winged blackbird is occasionally a victim of brood parasites, particularly brown-headed cowbirds. Since nest predation is common, several adaptations have evolved in this species. Group nesting is one such trait which reduces the risk of individual predation by increasing the number of alert parents. Nesting over water reduces the likelihood of predation, as do alarm calls. Nests, in particular, offer a strategic advantage over predators in that they are often well concealed in thick, waterside reeds and positioned at a height of one to two meters. Males often act as sentinels, employing a variety of calls to denote the kind and severity of danger. Mobbing, especially by males, is also used to scare off unwanted predators, although mobbing often targets large animals and man-made devices by mistake. The brownish coloration of the female may also serve as an anti-predator trait in that it may provide camouflage for her and her nest while she is incubating.
Red-Winged Blackbird getting a drink  Agelaius phoeniceus,Geotagged,Red-winged blackbird,Summer,United States

Food

The red-winged blackbird is omnivorous. It feeds primarily on plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, but about a quarter of its diet consists of insects and other small animals, and considerably more so during breeding season. It prefers insects, such as dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, moths, and flies, but also consumes snails, frogs, eggs, carrion, worms, spiders, mollusks. The red-winged blackbird forages for insects by picking them from plants, or by catching them in flight.
In season, it eats blueberries, blackberries, and other fruit. These birds can be lured to backyard bird feeders by bread and seed mixtures and suet. In late summer and in autumn, the red-winged blackbird will feed in open fields, mixed with grackles, cowbirds, and starlings in flocks which can number in the thousands.

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Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyIcteridae
GenusAgelaius
SpeciesA. phoeniceus