Red-Winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

One of the most abundant birds in North America, the Red-winged Blackbird is found in wetlands and agricultural areas across the continent. The black male can hide the brilliant red shoulders or show them off in a dazzling display. The striped female looks strikingly different than the male and could almost be mistaken for a large dark sparrow.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • Different populations and subspecies of Red-winged Blackbirds vary markedly in size and proportions. An experiment was conducted that moved nestlings between populations and found that the chicks grew up to resemble their foster parents. This study indicated that much of the difference seen between populations is the result of the different environments.
  • The Red-winged Blackbird is a highly polygynous species, with one male having up to 15 different females making nests in his territory. In some populations 90% of territorial males have more than one female. But, from one quarter to up to half of the young in "his" nests do not belong to the territorial male. Instead they have been sired by neighboring males.
  • The male Red-winged Blackbird fiercely defends his territory during the breeding season. He may spend more than a quarter of all the daylight hours in territory defense. He vigorously keeps all other males out of the territory and defends the nests from predators. He will attack much larger animals, including horses and people.
  • The Red-winged Blackbird forms roosting congregations in all months of the year. In the summer it will roost in small numbers at night in the wetlands where it forages and breeds. In winter, it can form huge congregations of several million birds, which congregate in the evening and spread out each morning. Some may travel as far as 80 km (50 mi) between the roosting and feeding sites. It commonly shares its winter roost with other blackbird species and European Starlings.

Description

  • Size: 17-23 cm (7-9 in)
  • Wingspan: 31-40 cm (12-16 in)
  • Weight: 32-77 g (1.13-2.72 ounces)
  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Moderately long and slender bill.
  • Tail of medium length.
  • Male plumage is well described by the name.
  • Feet black.
  • Bill black.
  • Eyes black.
  • Bill sharply pointed.
  • Tail rounded.
Male
Black all over; no iridescence. Red on bend of wing, with a lower border of yellow (some subspecies lack yellow).
Female
Brown and heavily streaked across chest and back. Prominent white eyestripe. Buffy throat and face. Pale stripe in middle of crown. Weak pale wingbars. Bend of wing with brown or orange-red. Undertail coverts dark with light edges.
Immature
Immature male similar to female, but may be mostly black with buffy edges to feathers, and epaulettes vary from brown to red. Much variation exists, and male may take three years to become entirely black. Immature female similar to adult, but has paler face and brown epaulettes.
Sex Differences
Male black with red shoulders, female brown and striped all over.
Range Map
 
Taxonomic Hierarchy

Spotted_Sandpiper_AllAm

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Icteridae
Genus: Agelaius
Species: Agelaius phoeniceus
     Subspecies:
  • Agelaius phoeniceus aciculatus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus arctolegus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus arthuralleni
  • Agelaius phoeniceus brevirostris
  • Agelaius phoeniceus bryanti
  • Agelaius phoeniceus californicus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus caurinus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus floridanus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus fortis
  • Agelaius phoeniceus grinnelli
  • Agelaius phoeniceus gubernator
  • Agelaius phoeniceus littoralis
  • Agelaius phoeniceus mailliardorum
  • Agelaius phoeniceus mearnsi
  • Agelaius phoeniceus megapotamus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus nelsoni
  • Agelaius phoeniceus neutralis
  • Agelaius phoeniceus nevadensis
  • Agelaius phoeniceus nyaritensis
  • Agelaius phoeniceus phoeniceus
  • Agelaius phoeniceus richmondi
  • Agelaius phoeniceus sonoriensis
Sound
Song a gurgling "oak-a-lee." Call a dry "chek" and "cheer."

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
Body
  • Length Range: 19-24 cm (7.5-9.5 in)
  • Weight: 65 g (2.3 oz)
  • Size: 2. Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Black, Sheen or Iridescence
  • Underparts: Black
  • Upperparts: Black
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
 
Head
  • Bill Shape: Dagger, All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Dark brown in both sexes and at all ages.
  • Head Pattern: Plain
  • Crown Color: Black
  • Forehead Color: Black
  • Nape Color: Black
  • Throat Color: Black
  • Cere color: No Data
Flight
  • Flight Pattern: Strong direct flight with deep rapid wing beats., Displaying males fly with slow stiff shallow wing beats with epaulettes raised.
  • Wingspan Range: 30-37 cm (12-14.5 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Black
  • Under Tail: Black
  • Leg Color: Black
Breeding
  • Breeding Location: Bushes, shrubs, and thickets, Marshes, freshwater, Swamps
  • Breeding Type: Colonial, Some polygamous
  • Breeding Population: Abundant
  • Egg Color: Blue green with black, brown and purple marks
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 5
  • Incubation Days: 11 - 12
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Dried cattail leaves and sedges, lined with fine grasses and rushes.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with sparse down.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Carouge à épaulettes (French)
  • Tordo alirrojo, Tordo capitán, Mayito de la ciénaga, Sargento (Spanish)
  • Tricolored Blackbird male has white lower edge to red shoulder. Female Tricolored Blackbird similar to red-winged, but is darker with a whitish-gray throat.

Conservation Status

Perhaps the most abundant bird in North America, with an estimated population of 190 million individuals in 1974. Populations increased greatly in the middle of the 20th century.

Habitat

Sources used to Construct this Page:

Breeds in a variety of wetland and grassy areas, including marshes, meadows, alfalfa fields, and open patches in woodlands.
  • Yasukawa, K., and W. A. Searcy. 1995. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). In The Birds of North America, No. 184 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Food
Insects, seeds, and grain.
Behavior
Probes in vegetation for insects, spreading the bill to look in plants and under objects. Gleans seeds from ground.

Adult Male

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Additional Photos & Video

Adult Male

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Juvenile

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Videos
   
 
 

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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