Red-wings are Back!

Red-winged blackbirds are back!

I heard a male’s exuberant “conk-a-ree!” song this morning. The males are usually the first arrival of spring. They’ve been making their way up the river valleys (the Connecticut River valley is a major migration path) and then to higher elevation areas like where I live. 

We have a pond nearby where blackbirds nest, and they are frequent visitors to my feeder.

Photo by Minette Layne/Flicker

Photo by Minette Layne/Flicker

The males are unmistakable with glossy black bodies and red and chevron with yellow trim on their shoulders. Females can be mistaken for song sparrows or female red-breasted grosbeaks, as all three are streaked brown and off-white. 

Walk near a pond or marsh in mid summer, and you’re almost certain to see these blackbirds. The males are very territorial, singing from cattails or nearby trees. Approach their nests, and you might get dive bombed! Last summer a particularly fierce male considered the entire pond his territory, and he let all the neighborhood dogs and people know it.

Notice above I wrote “nests.” Male red-wings are polygnous, meaning they have multiple mates. One bird may have several nesting females in his territory – especially dominant males can have up to 15 mates (!). However, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, those ladies are not monogamous either. One-quarter to one-half of nestlings turn out to have been sired by a bird other than the territorial male.

This time of year, I think those first red-wings appreciate the backyard feder, where they like mixed seeds or sunflower seed, especially seeds on the ground. And I like watching the strut about, occasionally stretching their wings like a body builder and showing off thise flashy chevrons. A few weeks from now we can all look forward to the females arriving.

Meanwhile, some of our winter birds are still here. Look for flocks of Bohemian waxwings congregated in medium to tall trees, with their distinctive high pitched whistling. Soon, they’ll head back north to their breeding grounds.