New World Blackbirds and Orioles: Icteridae
Red-winged Blackbird (agelaius Phoeniceus): Species Accounts
Physical characteristics: The male red-winged blackbird can be identified by the yellow-bordered red patches on the shoulder portion of the wing. While the adult male is a glossy black with black bill and feet, the adult female is streaked or striped with shades of brown and white. She is marked with a white stripe across her eye, a buff colored throat, and a faint orange patch on her shoulder. Birds don't attain their full adult coloring until they are three years old. Average size is 8.75 inches (22.23 centimeters) in length with a wingspan of 13 inches (33.02 centimeters) and a weight of 1.8 ounces (52 grams).
Geographic range: Like other New World blackbirds, the red-winged blackbird has an extensive North and South American range. The birds breed throughout Canada, the entire contiguous United States, and in southeastern Alaska all the way southward through Central America. They spend their winters as far north as southern Canada and south through Costa Rica. Some southern subspecies, population groups, are non-migratory.
Habitat: During breeding season red-winged blackbirds favor areas with tall vegetation such as marshes or grassland. They weave their nests into reeds or other vegetation to prevent access by predators. Wetlands also provide ample insects for feeding. In nonbreeding season, they descend on agricultural crops in large flocks.
Diet: Insects are the red-winged blackbird's staple during the summer months, but after breeding season they forage for grains and seeds.
Behavior and reproduction: Red-winged blackbird males mate with multiple females. Males are very territorial and will vigorously defend their space. Females select their mates based on the quality of the territory they have secured for nesting. Behaviors such as chasing, singing, and a "song spread" (in which the male sings loudly, spreads his wings, and puffs out his brightly colored epaulets, or shoulder feathers) are used by male birds to attract a mate. Interestingly, these same behaviors are also used to defend breeding territory from other males once it has been established.
The species travels and roosts with other types of blackbirds and starlings when they are not breeding, in flocks that can sometimes number in the hundreds of thousands.
Red-winged blackbirds and people: Because of their love of grains, rice, and seeds, the red-winged blackbird is considered a nuisance to many farmers. Crops for human and livestock consumption are frequently scavenged by large flocks of blackbirds. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that sunflower growers in both North and South Dakota lose an estimated $4 to 7 million annually to blackbird damage to their crops. The USDA has used several pilot programs to try and reduce crop damage in recent years, including avicide (bird poisoning) programs, herbicide destruction of desirable red-winged blackbird habitat (such as cattail stands), and use of protective aerial lines over crops.
Conservation status: Despite concerted efforts to reduce their population, the red-winged blackbird continues to thrive in abundance. ∎
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Animal Life ResourceBirdsNew World Blackbirds and Orioles: Icteridae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Blackbirds, Orioles, And People, Baltimore Oriole (icterus Galbula): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS