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Frequent Flyer: Red-winged blackbird

Monogamy is (not) for the birds


Story by Lucy Elam  +  Photos Courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited

A bold bird with a plucky personality, the red-winged blackbird is one of the most abundant birds across North America. With shiny black plumage accented by crimson and yellow epaulets, the males are very vocal and territorial. In sharp contrast, the more subdued females have a streaky brown appearance and are often mistaken for large sparrows. During the breeding season, these birds are almost exclusively found in wetlands, marshes and other wet areas. The male fiercely defends his territory during the breeding season, sitting on a high perch, singing at the top of his lungs (conk-la-ree!), and chasing away anything that comes near. Females build nests low to the ground in between dense grass-like vegetation, such as cattails, sedges and bulrushes. Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species, with as many as 15 females nesting in the territory of one male. As one of the more conspicuous and vocal birds in coastal areas, they are present year-round in South Carolina. You can attract them to your yard with meal worms, sunflower seed mixes and suet. Use an open-style feeder, or simply spread the feed out on the ground.

Male red-winged blackbirds fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season, sometimes swooping down at much larger animals, including horses and people.

FUN FACTS

•The red-winged blackbird is native to North America. During migration it can travel at over 30 mph.

•Each pair of red-winged blackbirds raise two to three broods per season. They build a new nest for each brood, which keeps the nest from becoming infected with parasites that could kill the baby birds.

•A group of blackbirds has many collective nouns, including a cloud, cluster and merl of blackbirds.

•Red-winged blackbirds roost in flocks in all months of the year. In summer small numbers roost in the wetlands where the birds breed. Winter flocks can be congregations of several million birds, including other blackbird species and starlings.


WHERE TO SEE THEM

•Saltwater marshes

•Water hazards on golf courses

•Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park


BLACKBIRD ESSENTIALS 

Find a full line of feeders, seeds and accessories for backyard bird feeding at Wild Birds Unlimited in Festival Centre at Indigo Park on Hilton Head Island.

FEEDERS
Eco-Tough Tray Feeder
EcoTough Classic Bird Feeder
Ground feeding
Hopper feeder

FOOD
No-mess blends
Suet
Meal worms