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Red-winged Blackbird

Common Name: Red-winged Blackbird.

Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus.

What to look for?  Red-winged Blackbirds are unmistakable – that is, the male. They're a strong-looking bird of glossy black coloring with shoulder badges that are red and yellow – which they can puff up or hide depending on how confident or aggressive they feel. Females are dark brownish overall, paler on the breast and often with a whitish eyebrow.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You will find Red-winged Blackbirds from February through late summer. Specifically, these birds will be nesting in our cattails around the shorelines of our ponds. And flying back and forth from food sources to nesting areas frequently during the day.

How big are they? The Red-winged Blackbird averages 7 to 9 inches in length. They weigh in at more than 2 ounces. And their wingspan is 12 to 16 inches.

What are their flight patterns? Red-winged Blackbirds are strong and agile fliers with deep rapid wing beats. Around Carillon Stonegate Pond, you will observe Red-winged Blackbirds making frequent short, low flight paths from feeding sources to nesting areas in the cattails along the shore. You may also see them in flight in mass to roost in the large trees north of the pond to survey their “territories”.

How else do they behave? Sometimes badly! They are very territorial and aggressive during the nesting season. Males often sit up high on a tree surveying their territories and will aggressively fly after intruders with their red wing-patches displayed boldly. Adults are very aggressive in their nesting territory. They will attack larger birds that approach. And they will loudly protest you or me as we walk or intrude their property (think the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”). Here is a story in Kane County Chronicle worth reading.

What’s for dinner? While about 75% of the annual Red-winged Blackbird diet is seeds, they primarily eat insects in the spring (breeding season) and summer and seeds, including corn and wheat, in the fall and 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.

Where do they take up residence? During nesting season, look for Red-winged Blackbirds in fresh and saltwater marshes and along ponds and water hazards on golf courses. In the fall and winter, you can find them at crop fields, feedlots, and pastures. Red-winged Blackbirds build their nests low among vertical shoots of marsh vegetation – which is why Carillon Stonegate ponds are so popular!

Where do they migrate? Red-winged Blackbirds are year-round residents across much of their range. Those birds that breed further north may migrate to the southern United States – migrating in late-fall and arriving back to their breeding grounds very early in the Spring. Outside of nesting season, Red-winged Blackbirds migrate in very large flocks.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Red-winged Blackbird has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 180 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? You can listen for the male’s conk-la-lee! Song during the Spring. During nesting season when these birds are more protective and aggressive, they rarely approach without a warning sound, such as a scolding “chak” or a “tjeet”. Here is a link to the sounds of the Red-winged Blackbird.

Interesting Facts About the Red-winged Blackbird:

  • The Red-winged Blackbird is a highly polygamous species, meaning males have many female mates – generally five or more.

  • Male Red-winged Blackbirds fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season, spending more than a quarter of daylight hours in territory defense, including people.

  • Red-winged Blackbirds roost in flocks in all months of the year but in summer they roost in smaller numbers in the wetlands where the birds breed.

  • Red-winged Blackbird populations declined by over 30% between 1966 and 2014 (North American Breeding Bird Survey) to a global breeding population of 130 million.

  • The oldest recorded Red-winged Blackbird was nearly 16 years old.

For more information on Red-winged Blackbird and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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