Red-Winged Blackbird

(Agelaius phoeniceus)

The Red-winged blackbird is one of the most abundant birds in North America.

It can be found in wetlands and agricultural areas across the continent.

In many northern locations, it is replacing the American robin as the harbinger of Spring.

The bird's gurgling song "oak-a-lee" is a common sound in swamps and even backyard gardens and feeders.

Early spring evenings you may walk by a swamp or wetland and hear thousands of these birds as they prepare to roost for the night.


The Red-wing Blackbird is 7 to 9 1/2 inches in length.

The male bird is black with red shoulder bordered with yellow.

Females have to blend in with the landscape when nesting. She is brown above and heavily streaked brown below with a sharp-pointed bill and a buff, whitish eyebrow.

The young males are similar to the adult female bird, but darker and with an orangish shoulder patch bordered by white. Female young are like adult female.

Red-Winged Blackbird Mating:

A highly polygamous species, with one male having up to 15 different females making nests in his territory.

In some populations 90% of territorial males have more than one female.

But, from one quarter to up to half of the young in his nests do not belong to the territorial male. Instead they have been sired by neighboring males.

The male Red-winged Blackbird fiercely defends his territory during the breeding season. He may spend more than a quarter of all the daylight hours in territory defense. He attempts to keep all other males out of the territory and defends the nests from predators.

He will attack much larger animals, including horses and people.


The nest is built by the female and is cup shaped, made of grass, lashed to reeds or in small bush. The female lays and incubates 3 to 5 pale blue, marked with zigzag lines of brown or blackish eggs.

Incubation will last about 12 days and the young will leave the nest in 10 to 13 days after hatching.

These birds have been the subject of much research, and many insights into breeding behavior have been gleaned from this species. One finding is that young females fledge more daughters than sons, but older females fledge more sons than daughters. Middle aged birds fledge about the same numbers of females and males.

The reasons for the sex ratio differences in broods are not clear, but this is undoubtedly related to the polygamous breeding strategy that requires more females than males in the population.

Get too close to a nest or fledglings and you will get attacked, often pecked in the head if you aren't watchful. This I have experienced more than once.


These Blackbirds feed on seeds, grain, insects and spiders. They freely come to gardens and bird feeders for cracked corn or seed mixes, sunflower seed and shelled peanuts.

In the spring and fall they tend to show up at feeders in large flocks.

I know they empty my feeders in no time at all.

This species of blackbird Migrates from Canada and the northern portion of the United States, joining their southern members in the lower 2/3's of the U.S.

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Other Common Birds

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