Red-Winged Blackbirds

If you have ever spent any time in a marsh or a meadow, chances are you have heard and seen a Red-Winged Blackbird. Besides having fairly bold personalities, Red-Winged Blackbirds are incredibly common year round in most of the continental United States. Seeing them is definitely a regular occurrence on my walks in many of the places I frequent, including the Celery Farms (Allendale), Mills Creek Marsh (Secaucus) and Richard W. DeKorte Park (Lyndhurst). Yet as common as they are in those places, I must live far enough from water that I have never seen one Red-Winged Blackbird at my feeder. In contrast, they do visit feeders (seed and suet) that I have the opportunity to view often in Upstate New York. The difference being that in New York, Lake Ontario is within full view and there are many farm fields and meadows in the vicinity.

The proximity to water is definitely key to the Red-Winged Blackbirds habitat. They usually build their nests near water and this habitat allows them a varied diet of bugs, seeds and very occasionally fruit. Their young are fed exclusively insects and, presumably due to the proximity of the nest to water, the young are able to swim short distances as young as 5-6 days old.

The Red-Winged Blackbird certainly has a presence. Strongly territorial, the males make themselves seen and heard by hanging to the top of tall marsh reeds or the exposed branches of trees. You can certainly not confuse a male Red-Winged Blackbird for anything else. As the name indicates, their totally black body is decorated with two stripes or epaulets on the wings. The higher stripe is red, with a thinner and more subtle stripe of yellow below the red. The females don’t resemble the males in any way, except their size and the shape of their beaks. The females have a brown-streaked body with a white line or “eyebrow” along their upper eye. Juveniles resemble their mother, but as they mature the males will begin to develop their red and yellow epaulets before their black feathers.

Their call, one part noise, one part music is synonymous with the marsh. You can listen for yourself, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/sounds

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