Red-Winged Blackbird

Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell

A territorial, polygynous, sociable, passerine bird found in North and Central America, this is one of the most-studied species in the world.

The name is derived from the adult male's black body and brilliant red shoulder patches, displayed during flight. At rest, the male also shows soft yellow wingbars. Females are deep brown above and lighter below, with young resembling the female, but lighter below with beige fringes.

Males are 8.75 to 9.5 inches long, female 6.7 to 7 inches, with 12.2- and 15.8-inch wingspans. Male legs, claws and eyes are black, the female’s beak is dark brown, and both tails are rounded and medium length. They prefer fresh- and saltwater wetlands, especially where cattails are present, but can also be spotted in dry meadows, prairies, and fields.

Omnivorous, they feed primarily on seeds, corn and rice, with a quarter of their diet consisting of dragonflies, butterflies, moths, and flies. They also enjoy the occasional snail, frog, egg, worm, spider or mollusk, and can be lured to feeders with bread, seed mixtures and suet.

Nesting in colonies, the female constructs a nest of grass, sedge and moss lined with mud, located in cattails, rushes, grasses, sedge, or bushes. Breeding from Alaska and Newfoundland to Florida and Mexico, they occasionally winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but generally migrate to the southern US and Mexico. They molt from late August to early September, making flight difficult, but molting is completed prior to winter migration.

A clutch consists of three or four, occasionally five, oval bluish-green eggs, marked with brown, purple and/or black,, about 1 by 5/8 inch in size. The female is the sole incubator, and chicks hatch blind and naked in 11 to 12 days, leaving the nest 11 to 14 days later.

Considered a pest by farmers who use illegal pesticides, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported that over 950,000 redwinged blackbirds have been poisoned since 1960, resulting in their listing as threatened.

Red-winged Blackbirds frequent our local waterways, just in case you wish to add them to your “big list!”

The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at

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