Red-winged Blackbirds

Mar 5, 2017

Step outside this week and discover nature as male red-winged blackbirds arrive and claim their territories. This bird is thought to be the most abundant bird species in North America and nearly every cattail marsh in Missouri hosts them at some time of the year. They’ll also claim residence in wet meadows and ditches and shoreline shrubs.

As he sings his konk-a-ree song, the male red-winged blackbird spreads his shoulders to display armor-like bright red epaulets, edged in yellow, to rivals and potential mates. He defends his territory with enthusiasm using to his advantage his flashy armor, and his short, raspy song.

In field experiments, males whose red shoulders were painted black soon lost their territories. He can be very aggressive while defending his territory, attacking much larger birds, such as crows, ravens and hawks if they enter.

The considerably smaller sized female is less flashy with streaked, brown coloration and a faint red shoulder patch that allows her to sit on her nest inconspicuously and blend in with her surroundings.

When the breeding season is over, red-winged blackbirds gather in huge flocks, sometimes numbering in the millions. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of their diet.

To keep track of current natural events like when to watch red-winged blackbirds stake their claim, you can get your own Natural Events Calendar from the Missouri Department of Conservation.