Date of this Version
Published in: G.M. Linz, M.L. Avery, and R.A. Dolbeer, editors. Ecology and management of blackbirds (Icteridae) in North America. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. Pgs. 17-41.
The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is one of the most abundant bird species in North America, with an estimated spring breeding population of 150 million individuals that nest in emergent wetland vegetation and upland habitats throughout the continent (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995; Forcey et al. 2015; Rosenberg et al. 2016). During the nonbreeding season, red-winged blackbirds are often found in flocks numbering from a few birds to many thousands, sometimes in association with other blackbird species and European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). In winter, red-winged blackbirds and these associated species gather in roosts occasionally numbering over 10 million birds (Meanley and Royal 1976; White et al. 1985).
Migratory male red-winged blackbirds typically arrive at their nesting grounds in early March, a month before the females arrive. At this time, casual bird watchers are apt to notice the robinsized, male red-winged blackbirds with black feathers and highly conspicuous red and yellow epaulets (definitive plumage), prominently displayed while aggressively confronting intruders approaching their nesting territories (Figure 2.1). Loud singing (o-ka-leeee, konk-a-ree) by these males from high perches in their chosen territories adds to their aesthetic value. Second-year males returning to their natal area following their hatching year do not have the definitive plumage of adults. Rather, they have a duller black body and light red or orange epaulets (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995). The female, at least 20% smaller and far less noticeable with brownish feathers, is often misidentified as a large streaked sparrow (Figure 2.2) (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995; Jaramillo and Burke 1999).