This bird’s name says it all – but only for the male. In size it is a bit smaller than a robin. Its glossy black all-around color is brilliantly set off with two shoulder patches that are bright orange-red with a golden border. Immature males are black but with a much paler shoulder patch. The adult female is completely different – an example of sexual dimorphism. She is brown and streaky overall, with a marked light stripe over the eye. Bird guides say the Red-Winged Blackbird may be the most common bird in the US.
Males are strongly territorial and polygynous. A single male may mate with as many as fifteen females in his territory. But genetic testing of nestlings has recently shown that females, too, may have multiple mates. Nesting usually occurs near the ground and the nest is very cleverly constructed of reeds, bark, mud, wet leaves, and a final lining of soft, dry material. During breeding season males sing a loud “conk-a-reeeee!” The first two notes are pitched lower than the last trill. Red winged blackbirds roost in huge flocks, often in the company of other species such as grackles. Because they avidly eat corn and wheat seeds, humans are their main predator.
What brings it to the SBG?
Food, cover, possibly nesting sites. The species is most often found in wet marshy places but will also inhabit upland areas like former farm fields such as the SBG, where it can find its preferred foods of insects and seeds.
When can I see it? Red-winged blackbirds have been sighted year-round, but they are more common in central Pennsylvania in the spring, summer, and fall.