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A photo of a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), male
Red-winged Blackbird, Male

Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

The Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a striking and abundant passerine bird, belonging to the family Icteridae. Exhibiting pronounced sexual dimorphism, the male is resplendent with glossy black plumage, accented by a vibrant red shoulder patch edged with a yellow border. The female, in contrast, is cloaked in more subdued hues of brown, adeptly blending into her surroundings.

Identification Tips

Males are easily identified by their jet-black feathers and the scarlet and yellow "epaulets" on their wings. Females are more cryptic, with a mottled brown appearance, often with streaks or lighter undersides. Both sexes possess a pointed bill and a medium-length, rounded tail.

Habitat

Red-winged Blackbirds are versatile in their choice of habitat, though they show a strong affinity for wetlands. They are commonly found in freshwater and saltwater marshes, particularly where cattails are present. They also inhabit dry upland areas such as meadows and prairies.

Distribution

This species is widespread across North America, from Alaska and Newfoundland, extending south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and parts of Central America. They are also found in isolated regions of El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica.

Behaviour

Red-winged Blackbirds are known for their territorial nature, especially during the breeding season. Males can be seen perched conspicuously, singing and displaying their shoulder patches, while females are more secretive, often foraging within dense vegetation.

Song & Calls

The male's song is a distinctive, scratchy "oak-a-lee," while the female's vocalizations include a chattering "chit chit cheer teer teer." Their calls serve as important communication signals within their social structure.

Breeding

Nesting in loose colonies, the female constructs a basket-like nest attached to marsh vegetation or shrubs. Clutches typically consist of three to four eggs, which are incubated solely by the female. Red-winged Blackbirds are polygynous, with males defending territories that may contain multiple females.

Similar Species

The Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) can be confused with the Red-winged Blackbird, but males of the former have darker red epaulets edged with white, not yellow.

Diet and Feeding

An omnivorous bird, the Red-winged Blackbird's diet includes seeds, grains, insects, and small animals. They exhibit foraging flexibility, adapting their diet seasonally and based on availability.

Conservation Status

The Red-winged Blackbird is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. Despite its abundance, habitat destruction and changes in agricultural practices have led to population declines in some areas. However, the species' adaptability has allowed it to persist in a variety of environments.

Red-winged Blackbird Sounds

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