Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the red-winged blackbird.
These birds are so familiar that we often don’t really see them. In winter they associate in large flocks on the lookout for food. Observing them together on feeders or foraging in fields provides the opportunity to observe all the plumage variations among males. To avoid signaling aggression when feeding, males hide the red shoulder patches which give them their name.
It takes three years to achieve the familiar glossy black color of a breeding male. Until then, male appearance is highly variable, from streaked brown to black with brown flecks. Most of the red-wingeds that we see here in winter are males since the majority of Colorado females spend the winter in southern states. Females are mottled brown above and streaked below and have a prominent white eyebrow stripe. They are easily mistaken for a sparrow.
The call of the male evokes images of spring and cattails. Males arrive in marshy areas with thick vegetation weeks ahead of females to claim the best breeding territories. Nests are hidden near the water and woven unto standing vegetation. These habitats, like the wetlands along the Riverwalk, are ideal places for learning the territorial displays of these birds.
The male perches atop a cattail, hunched forward, tail spread, singing and displaying his bright red shoulder patches bordered in yellow. This posturing both signals his ownership of the breeding territory and his desirability to females. Slow flights while displaying over his territory defines its borders which he fiercely defends against competing males and predators. He may have up to 15 mates on nests within his territory.
The next time you spot one of these common birds, take the time to observe its unique detail and beauty.
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