Wildlife Damage Management, Internet Center for


Date of this Version

November 1979


Crop depredation by red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) causes serious economic losses to agricultural crops each year in both Canada and the United States. The concentration of vulnerable, monocultural crops, particularly corn, during periods when large flocks of blackbirds congregate in roosting areas prior to migration has invariably led to heavy feeding pressure (Stone et al., 1972; Wiens and Dyer, 1975; Tyler et al., 1978). Efforts to reduce damage levels by mechanical and chemical dispersal agents have been largely unsuccessful, at least in terms of a long-term solution to the problem. Recently, the lethal control of blackbird populations using surfactants has been proposed. However, the potential repercussions of the removal of substantial numbers of birds from northern breeding areas are virtually unknown (Robertson et al., 1978). Much of the research dealing with the feeding ecology of red-winged blackbirds has been limited to fall and winter periods when large aggregations of birds are actively involved in crop depredation (Goddad, 1969; Williams, 1976; Dolbeer et al., 1978) or pose a potential health hazard (Monroe and Cronholm, 1976). However, what is not known is the degree to which the removal of deleterious weed seed and insect pests cited in several studies (Bird and Smith, 1964; Mott et al., 1972; Robertson et al., 1978) might be of potential value to agriculture. The issue of whether the benefits derived from redwing foraging compensate for the negative aspects associated with crop depredation and health hazards remains largely unresolved. The present study attempted to evaluate the pest status of this species using diet information derived from food habits analysis conducted during the residency of red- winged blackbirds in a northern breeding area. By determining how the feeding ecology of red-winged blackbirds varies on a seasonal basis, among different breeding habitats and between sexes, we hoped to determine more realistically which segments of the population might be responsible for the greatest benefits or detriments and, thereby, more accurately evaluate the economic impact of the species as a whole. To achieve this aim, the study provides an accurate description of the common insects and weed pests utilized by redwings. By determining the relative proportions of those items known to be detrimental, we hoped to illustrate, at least qualitatively, the degree to which redwing foraging is comprised of both beneficial and harmful components.