Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the Dig Imperial Beach “Bird of the Week”, the “Red-Winged Blackbird”
Feb 23, 2016 07:17AM
By Paul Spear
Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the Dig Imperial Beach
“Bird of the Week”. This week’s bird is the “Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)”. The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird.
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“Dig Imperial Beach” Bird of the Week, the “Red-Winged Blackbird”
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), a passerine bird of the family Icteridae found in most of North and Central America. Among our most familiar birds, red-wings seem to sing their nasal songs in every marsh and wet field from coast to coast. They are notably bold, and several will often attack a larger bird, such as a hawk or crow, that flies over their nesting area. The red shoulder patches of the male, hidden under body feathers much of the time, are brilliantly displayed when he is singing. Outside the nesting season, Red-wings sometimes roost in huge concentrations. Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America as bird-counting censuses of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in an excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years. It also ranks among the best-studied wild bird species in the world. The red-winged blackbird is sexually dimorphic, the male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown.
This bird breeds in marshes, brushy swamps, and hayfields, and forages also in cultivated
land and along the edges of water. Breeding is most commonly in freshwater marshes, but also in wooded or brushy swamps, rank weedy fields, hayfields, and the upper edges of salt marshes. They often forage in other open habitats, such as fields and mudflats. Outside the breeding season, flocks gather in farm fields, pastures, and in feedlots.
Foraging is most commonly while walking on the ground, but sometimes occurs up in shrubs and trees. Outside the breeding season, they usually forage in flocks, often associated with other blackbirds and starlings. Diet is mostly insects and seeds, feeding on many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, millipedes, and snails. The majority of the adult's annual diet (roughly three-fourths) is seeds, including those of grasses, weeds, and waste grain, but also eating some berries and small fruits.
After mating, females lay 3-4, rarely 2-6, pale blue-green eggs, with markings of black, brown, and purple concentrated at the larger end of their eggs. Incubation is by females only in 10-12 days. Both parents feed nestlings, but females do more. Young leave their nests in about 11-14 days after hatching.
To defend their territory and attract a mate, males perch on high stalks with feathers fluffed out, with their tails partly spread, lifting the leading edge of their wings so that the red shoulder patches are prominent while they sing. Males also sing in a slow, fluttering flight to attract mates. One male often has more than one mate. Adults are very aggressive in nesting territory, attacking larger birds that approach, and loudly protesting human intruders. Nests are placed in marsh growth such as cattails or bulrushes, in bushes or saplings close to water, or in dense grass in fields. Nests, built by females, are a bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, reeds, leaves, and rootlets, and are lined with fine grass.
The red-winged blackbird is a seasonal visitor to our own Tijuana Estuary, and can now be seen in the reeds across from the Outlying Field fence. They seem to signal the arrival of our Spring each year, and are a welcome sight. Look for this bird and the many other seasonal visitors to our neighborhood as you walk in the estuary and along the beaches here in beautiful Imperial Beach. Until next week, good birding!