Description of the Red-winged Blackbird

BREEDING MALE

The Red-winged Blackbird is an abundant, widespread blackbird well known for the red epaulets, or shoulder patches, seen on the otherwise all black males. It has a thick but very pointed bill.

Males Red-winged Blackbirds are all black with red patches on the lesser coverts, usually visible but sometimes hidden on the folded wing and very prominently displayed during territorial displays.  The red patches are bordered below by yellow visible in most males.

Female

Females are reddish-brown, heavily streaked below, with a bold, tan eyeline.

Seasonal change in appearance

None.

Juvenile

Juveniles resemble females.

Habitat

Red-winged Blackbirds occur in marshes, pastures, hayfields, and roadsides, often near water.

Diet

Red-winged Blackbirds eat insects and seeds.

Behavior

Forages on the ground, walking in search of insects or seeds.  While singing, the red epaulets of the males are boldly displayed.

Range

Red-winged Blackbirds breed over nearly the entire U.S. and much of Canada, and south to Central America. The population has declined somewhat in recent years.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Red-winged Blackbird.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

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

Red-winged Blackbirds are known to chase and harass birds many times larger, such as crows or Red-tailed Hawks.

Vocalizations

The song is a familiar, gurgling "konk-la-reee".

Attracting

Red-wing Blackbirds will visit feeders for suet, fruit and sunflower.  The prefer open, platform style feeder stations.  Will also visit birdbaths.

Nesting

Nests are a deep cup of cattail leaves, fibers, grasses, or reeds, usually placed above or close to water in cattails or bushes.

Number:
Usually lay 3-4 eggs.

Color:
Pale bluish-green and marked with purplish scrawls or spots.

Incubation and fledging:
Young hatch at about 11-13 days and leave the nest in 10-11 days, but continue to associate with the adults for some time.