This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the red-winged blackbird.
It’s that time of year when one of the most recognizable birds in our area, the red-winged blackbird (agelains phoeniceus) returns to set up their breeding territories and raise their young. A medium-sized bird, red-winged blackbirds are perfectly named. Although females are fairly nondescript, the males are deep black with bright red patches on their wings, reminiscent of the shoulder epaulets on soldiers’ uniforms.
They can be found in wetlands or along watercourses, even ditch banks, especially where you find cattails. The males perch in the tops of shrubs or other vegetation in plain sight to show off the bright red patches on their wings, signaling to their competitors that this is their territory. As they make their territorial displays, you may also hear their distinctive chortle-like call — “conk-la-lee.”
Depending on habitat availability, five or more females build their nests in the territory of a single male, but males often find a way to mate with females in neighboring territories. The nest contains two to four eggs, and one or two broods are raised each season.
During the breeding season, red-winged blackbirds feed primarily on insects, but as the season changes to fall, they switch to various seed sources. As they leave their summer haunts to warmer climates, they gather in large flocks that include other blackbird species, starlings and cowbirds.
Data collected over the past several decades indicate a decline in red-winged blackbird numbers, probably due to habitat fragmentation, but they remain one of the most abundant native birds in North America.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.