Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

When it comes to Red-winged Blackbirds, the question is: birdfeeder or scarecrow? This common and abundant species can be a real agricultural pest for commercial farming. The problem is that Red-wings are opportunistic omnivores. On the northern plains they feast on sunflower, in the Midwest on corn and sorghum, and in the southeast rice. The offset for farmers is that they also consume prodigious numbers of weed seeds and insects. In non-agricultural areas, their diet is heavily weighted to weeds and insects. They also are attracted to bird feeding stations in our backyards.

The Red-winged Blackbird is a species with a dramatic difference in the appearance of the sexes (sexual dimorphism). Adult males are overall shiny black with red-orange epaulets bordered with yellow. The male?s namesake red shoulders are not always visible. Females are streaky birds with a thin, buffy, white eyebrow and a faint wash of orange-red on the face.

Red-wings are a species that prefers to nest in wetlands. A favorite site is in cattails bordering farm ponds. They also associate with meadows, fields, and croplands. If either of these habitat types is found in your neighborhood, then you are likely to entertain Red-winged Blackbirds at your feeders during some period of the year. When is a question of where you live. These birds migrate south from the northern states in late summer and autumn. In the south very large groups of Red-winged Blackbirds roost together.

A sure sign that spring is upon us in the northeast is the song of the male Red-winged Blackbird as it displays its shoulder color

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird

s and sings out: “Conk-a-ree!” Feeder visits are often limited to spring and fall when natural food preferences are less available. If Red-wings inhabit your neighborhood during the summer, using tube and ball feeders instead of hopper feeders will often discourage their hogging too much of your birdseed.

Reference: Yasukawa, Ken and William A. Searcy. 1995. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.