Conk-a- reee! Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most unmistakeable bird species we see in the Peace Country. That call and the glossy black body and red and yellow shoulder feathers are unmistakeable.
Those brilliant markings tell the females that a male is mature; at least two to three years old and likely experienced enough to look after chicks properly. Younger males aren’t nearly so flashy – they can try to attract a mate but they’ll probably have to watch and learn for a season or two.
A young bird quickly learns what foods are best by watching the neighbours’ diets: insects in breeding season, grains in winter. Favourite grains include corn, sunflowers and rice. Since Red-winged Blackbirds can travel in flocks of up to a million individuals, this can leave quite a mark on a farmer’s crop. Luckily the Peace Country is too cold for them to stay the winter.
Red-winged Blackbirds build their nests on cattails over marshy areas and lake shores. That means that the chicks must know how to swim a bit before they have flying down pat. Should they fall out of the nest, they can paddle to a reed and climb up.
A handsome bird will have around five (but up to 15) females, each with a nest of about four eggs to protect. They are fiercely territorial. They can sing all day to declare their ownership of a space – when they are not attacking predatory Marsh Wrens or unsuspecting people, perhaps on horseback. The size of the enemy does not matter to the Red-winged Blackbird!
Keep an eye – and an ear – out for the feisty Red-winged Blackbird males and intelligent, camouflaged females. You can observe them nesting and singing and squabbling at Jack Bird’s Pond. Just remember to keep your distance. You do not want to disturb the conquering Red-wing!