U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

February 2004


Published by The Canadien Field-Naturalist.


Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are very abundant summer residents throughout the Prairie Pothole Region of central Norht America. In late summer they assemble in post-breeding flocks that cause significant amounts of agricultural damage, particularly in sunflower fields near natal sites. In April 2001, we aerially color-marked ~370,000 Red-winged Blackbirds near Badger, South Dakota (44°48'N, 97°21'W), to determine if migrants staging here were summer residents in sunflower production areas ~350 km to the northwest. We measured patterns of migratory dispersal by collecting birds in 54 randomly selected blocks in the north central U.S. and the Prairie Provinces of Canada. The marked specimens (n =33) were categorized into three polygons based on analyses of banding and re-sighting data and proximity to concentrated sunflower production. We estimated that 82% of the migrants that had staged in eastern South Dakota resided within or on the periphery of the sunflower growing area. These birds probably stay near their breeding territories until at least late August and cause early damage to sunflower, which comprises the majority of damage. Resident birds in Alberta and most of Saskatchewan (18%) might arrive too late in the damage season to impact the sunflower crop significantly.