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Urban species #070: Red-winged blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

photos by cottonmanifesto

Since earlier we established that the robin was an unreliable indicator of the return of spring in Boston, we must turn to other birds. One good candidate is the male red-winged blackbird. They return from their southern migration sites to the cattail swamps that they bred in the previous year, usually within 200 meters of the exact territory. In an urban swamp, the territorial song ("Konk-a-reeee!") of the male red-winged blackbird can be taken for a real sign that spring is on its way.

The females return a few weeks later, with anywhere between two and fifteen females nesting and mating with each male. Studies show that females also often mate with males from neighboring territories. Female red-winged blackbirds are not black but instead are well-camouflaged, with a similar appearance to a large sparrow. When I first saw one, that was exactly what I took it to be.

In much of the rest of North America, red-winged blackbirds are year-round residents. At the end of Haight Street in San Francisco, the red-wings make forays from Golden Gate Park into the city. French fries and bagel crumbs augment their diet of insects and seeds. In agricultural areas they feed in the crop fields and are considered pests. In the fall the males migrate first, joining huge mixed flocks with other blackbird species.



Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
momomom
Mar. 12th, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I like that second picture. I was watching grackles today. They display much like red wings but the lift their bill upward when redwings hunch their's downward. Both puff up then call.
rwblackbird
Mar. 13th, 2006 02:14 am (UTC)
yes
shellynoir
Mar. 13th, 2006 05:03 am (UTC)
and...
If you jog by wearing red shorts they will attack you!
Ah, good times.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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