Sunday, April 15, 2018

Red-Winged Blackbird - Outdoor Hour Challenge

Using the Handbook of Nature Study, I did a study about the red-winged blackbirds since we are seeing quite a few here migrating back to Minnesota.

Inside Preparation Work:

1. Read the Handbook of Nature Study pages 117-119 about the red-winged blackbird. I found the following information interesting:
  • Some of the earliest visitors in the Spring.
  • They have a bright red and pale yellow stripe on each wing.
  • Male red-winged blackbirds arrive three weeks before the female blackbirds.
  • The female blackbird is speckled with brown, black, whitish bluff, and orange. 
  • Females do most of the nest building. The tail is used as a steering organ.
2. Read in the Handbook of Nature Study the section on bird’s eyes and ears on page 38. I found the following facts interesting:
  • Birds have a clear film lid that moves from the outside corner of the eye to the center.
  • The ears are holes in the heads covered with feathers. 
Outdoor Hour Time:

I spent time filling up bird feeders in the front- and backyards - especially during the snowstorm that dropped 18 inches of snow in three days.

I shoveled pathways out to the feeders so that the birds, squirrels, and rabbits could use them. It was a little easier to run and hope on pathways than it is on stop of snow. It also provided a windblock for these tiny animals and birds.

Throughout then entire snowstorm, there were bird at the feeder - sometimes small flocks and other times gatherings of up 25 birds. I've never seen that many birds at a feeder at once.

After the snowstorm and as things warmed up, the red-winged blackbirds went back to the pond where they typically can be found during the Spring and Summer.

It was such a fascinating time watching theses birds eat and sustain their strength for this three-day snowstorm.

Additional Information:

Below is information about red-winged blackbirds that I found on All About Birds:

Size and Shape
A stocky, broad-shouldered blackbird with a slender, conical bill, and a medium-length tail. Red-winged Blackbirds often show a hump-backed silhouette while perched; males often sit with tail slightly flared.

Color Pattern
Male Red-winged Blackbirds are hard to mistake. They're an even glossy black with red-and-yellow shoulder badges. Females are crisply streaked and dark brownish overall, paler on the breast and often show a whitish eyebrow.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds do everything they can to get noticed, sitting on high perches and belting out their conk-la-ree! song all day long. Females stay lower, skulking through vegetation for food and quietly weaving together their remarkable nests. In winter Red-winged Blackbirds gather in huge flocks to eat grains with other blackbird species and starlings.

Look for Red-winged Blackbirds in fresh and saltwater marshes, along watercourses, water hazards on golf courses, and wet roadsides, as well as drier meadows and old fields. In winter, you can find them at crop fields, feedlots, and pastures.

Interesting Facts
Male Red-winged Blackbirds fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season, spending more than a quarter of daylight hours in territory defense. He chases other males out of the territory and attacks nest predators, sometimes going after much larger animals, including horses and people.

Red-winged Blackbirds roost in flocks in all months of the year. In summer, small numbers roost in the wetlands where the birds breed. Winter flocks can be congregations of several million birds, including other blackbird species and starlings. Each morning the roosts spread out, traveling as far as 50 miles to feed, then re-forming at night.


Red-winged Blackbirds spend the breeding season in wet places like fresh or saltwater marshes and rice paddies. You may also find them breeding in drier places like sedge meadows, alfalfa fields, and fallow fields. Occasionally, Red-winged Blackbirds nest in wooded areas along waterways. In fall and winter, they congregate in agricultural fields, feedlots, pastures, and grassland.


Red-winged Blackbirds eat mainly insects in the summer and seeds, including corn and wheat, in the winter. Sometimes they feed by probing at the bases of aquatic plants with their slender bills, prying them open to get at insects hidden inside. In fall and winter, they eat weedy seeds such as ragweed and cocklebur as well as native sunflowers and waste grains.


Clutch Size
2–4 eggs

Number of Broods
1-2 broods

Egg Length
0.9–1.1 in

Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in

Incubation Period
11–13 days

Nestling Period
11–14 days


Pale blue-green to gray with black or brown markings.

Condition at Hatching
Blind, naked with scant buffy or grayish down, and poorly coordinated.

Nest Description

Females build the nests by winding stringy plant material around several close, upright stems and weaving in a platform of coarse, wet vegetation. Around and over this she adds more wet leaves and decayed wood, plastering the inside with mud to make a cup. Finally, she lines the cup with fine, dry grasses.

One nest picked apart by a naturalist in the 1930s had been made by weaving together 34 strips of willow bark and 142 cattail leaves, some 2 feet long. When finished the nest is 4 to 7 inches across and 3 to 7 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Red-winged Blackbirds build their nests low among vertical shoots of marsh vegetation, shrubs, or trees. Females choose the nest site with some input from the male. Typically, she puts the nest near the ground (or water surface in a marsh), in dense, grass-like vegetation such as cattails, bulrushes, and sedges in wetlands; goldenrod, blackberry, or willow and alder trees in uplands; and wheat, barley, alfalfa, and rice plants.


Male Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of the breeding season sitting on a high perch over their territories and singing their hearts out. Females tend to slink through reeds and grasses collecting food or nest material. Both males and females defend nests from intruders and predators. Red-winged Blackbirds nest in loose groups in part because appropriate marshy habitat is scarce. Typically five or more (up to 15) females have to crowd their nests into any one male’s territory.

In fall and winter, Red-winged Blackbirds flock with other blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and starlings, feeding on open ground and roosting in flocks of thousands or millions of birds. Red-winged Blackbirds are strong, agile fliers.

Songs and Calls

The male Red-winged Blackbird’s conk-la-ree! is a classic sound of wetlands across the continent. The 1-second song starts with an abrupt note that turns into a musical trill. Males often sing from a high perch while leaning forward, drooping their wings, spreading their tail feathers, and fluffing their bright shoulder patches to show them off. Females give a very different song in response to a singing male, a series of three to five short chit or check notes.

The typical call of a Red-winged Blackbird is a distinctive, matter-of-fact check that’s fairly easy to recognize. Males and females make these calls all year round, in flight and while feeding, when confronting rivals and to raise an alarm. They also give a more intense alarm call, a fast, scolding chak chak chak.

1 comment:

Smily said...

Very interesting! It is a nice challenge to know more about nature not from the books but in reality, watching, investigating, enjoying. You've done a nice job!