The Red-winged Blackbird is often considered to be the most abundant bird in North America. Broadly distributed across much of the continent, it leaves the northernmost parts of its breeding range in the winter. Red-winged Blackbird migration takes place during the day, and usually in large flocks.
Nest parasitism of Red-winged Blackbirds by the Brown-headed Cowbird is very common, reaching nearly three-quarters of nests in one study. Parasitized nests often raise fewer blackbirds because the female cowbird may remove a blackbird egg when she lays her own.
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Description of the Red-winged Blackbird
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. Length: 9 in. Wingspan: 13 in.
Females are reddish-brown, heavily streaked below, with a bold, tan eyeline.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles resemble females.
Red-winged Blackbirds occur in marshes, pastures, hayfields, and roadsides, often near water.
Red-winged Blackbirds eat insects and seeds.
Forages on the ground, walking in search of insects or seeds. While singing, the red epaulets of the males are boldly displayed.
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.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Red-winged Blackbird.
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.
- Male, adult, Washington, Feb.
- From below
- Male, immature, Washington, Mar.
- From below
- Male, immature, Washington, Sept.
- From below
- Female, Washington, Oct.
- From below
- Female, Washington, May
- From below
Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History
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.
The song is a familiar, gurgling “konk-la-reee”.
Red-wing Blackbirds will visit feeders for suet, fruit and sunflower. The prefer open, platform style feeder stations. Will also visit birdbaths.
- Tricolored Blackbird
The Tricolored Blackbird, a California species, is very similar, though males also have white in the wing patches, and females lack the reddish tones of female Red-winged Blackbirds.Worn late seasion male Red-wing Blackbirds may show a limitied amont of red in the wings so take care in identifiing this species.
Nests are a deep cup of cattail leaves, fibers, grasses, or reeds, usually placed above or close to water in cattails or bushes.
Usually lay 3-4 eggs.
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.
Bent Life History of the Red-winged Blackbird
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Red-winged Blackbird – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
now Red-winged Blackbird
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS PHOENICEUS (Linnacus)
Everyone who notices birds at all knows the red-winged blackbird, or redwing as it is now called; at least they recognize it as a black bird with red on its wings. It is very conspicuous and self-revealing whenever one approaches its haunts. It could hardly be overlooked by even the most casual observer, as the male flies up to announce his presence and display his colors .
The numerous subspecies of the redwing are widely spread all over the continent of North America, except in the arid desert, the higher mountain ranges, the forested and the Arctic regions, wherever they can find suitable marshes in which to breed. The presence of water, or at least its proximity, is essential; and the birds must have certain types of dense vegetation in which to conceal their nests. Marshes or sloughs supporting extensive growths of cattails, bulrushes, sedges, reeds, or tules are their favorite breeding haunts; but where similar types of vegetation, or water-loving bushes or small trees, grow in ponds, around the shores of lakes or along the banks of sluggish streams, the redwings find congenial homes. Wherever such conditions exist throughout this continent, from Central America nearly to the Arctic Circle and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, some form of this species is likely to be found.
Spring: The redwings are among our earliest spring migrants; the eastern redwing leaves its winter haunts in the southern States before the end of February, reaches New England in March (rarely earlier), and arrives in eastern Canada in April or earlier. In Massachusetts, we look for the first of these harbingers of spring about the second week in March. I wrote in my notes for March 22, 1900: “The first interesting sight that met our eyes, as we walked down the country road, was a detached flock of some ten robins in an old stubble field, the first I had seen that year; it was a welcome sight and their bright red breasts seemed to reflect the warmth of coming spring. A flock of about fifteen redwings, adult males, also arose from the same field and circled about, wheeling with better precision than the best of trained soldiers, their jet black uniforms and scarlet epaulets flashing in the sunlight as they turned. All their movements seemed to be governed by the same impulse, instantly obeyed, as they swooped down upon a small apple tree and alighted with every head pointing toward the wind. Our approach started them off again toward some swampy woods, where they scattered and alighted among the tops of the taller trees.”
William Brewster (1906) says: “For several weeks after their first appearance in early spring Redwings are usually found in flocks composed wholly of males. At this season they are seldom seen about their breeding grounds excepting in the early morning and late afternoon. At most other hours of the day they frequent open and often elevated farming country, where they feed chiefly in grain stubbles and weed-grown fields. When disturbed at their repasts they fly to the nearest deciduous trees and immediately after alighting burst into a medley of tumultuous song, inexpressibly wild and pleasing when heard at a distance, but rather overwhelming if the flock be a large one and close at hand.”
Chapman (1912) writes attractively of this early spring behavior: “A swiftly moving, compact band of silent birds, passing low through the brown orchard, suddenly wheels, and, alighting among the bare branches, with precision of a trained choir breaks into a wild, tinkling glee. It is quite possible that in the summer this rude chorus might fail to attract enthusiasm, but in the spring it is as welcome and inspiring a promise of the new year as the peeping of frogs or the blooming of the first wild flower.”
No better life history’ of the redwing has ever been published than that written by Arthur A. Allen (1914), based on an exhaustive study of the bird near Ithaca, N. Y. I regret that space will not permit quoting from it as fully as it deserves. His study throws new I The reader should also consult the valuable paper by Robert W. Nero, “A behavior ,study of the redwinged blackbird,” Wilson Bull., vol. 85, pp. 6-37. 129-156 (1956). light on the migratory movements of the species, and suggests that similar studies of other species might be equally enlightening.
As a result of his studies at Ithaca in 1911 and 1910, he divides the migratory waves into seven classes as follows: “Vagrants” arrived from February 25 to March 4; migrant adult males from March 13 to April 21; resident adult males from March 25 to April 10; migrant females and immature males from March 29 to April 24; resident adult females from April 10 to May 1; resident immature males from May 6 to June 1 (1910); and resident immature females from May 10 to June 11(1910).
The “vagrants” come during the first warm days of spring, although the marshes may still be frozen and the ground still covered with snow; they are supposed to be birds that have wintered not very far south; they do not appear every year, but when they do come they are seen in February; they “are for the most part adult males, but immature males or females may be found among them. They are never in large flocks, and often occur singly. The reproductive organs are very small. * * * They do not frequent the open marsh.” Of the arrival of the migrant males, Allen (1914) says:
The first true migrants arriving in the spring are adult males. They appear in flocks, some of which contain a hundred or more birds, and ordinarily are first noted in the marsh, although occasionally seen in tree tops or stubble fields on the uplands. * * * At this season of the year, about 4:30 in the afternoon, let us take a stand at the upper end of the marsh and gaze southward up the Inlet Valley. Presently we discern what appears like a puff of smoke in the distance, drifting in at a considerable height. After a minute or two the smoke is resolved into an aggregation of black specks, and then, as it drops lower and lower, it takes on that irregular form so characteristic of redwinged Blackbirds. With one last swoop and flutter of wings, they alight on the more prominent of the few scraggly trees at the southern end of the marsh. The migration has begun. For a few moments they shake out their feathers and give vent to their feelings in song. It is but a short time, however, before they start again for the north.
A few birds drop out of the passing flocks and settle down into the marsh for a while, but they soon rise again and join another migrating flock. Flocks coming in late in the day fly low and settle for the night in the scanty shelter of the still dormant flags.
Every available perch, not so high as to be conspicuous, is filled with birds down to the water’s surface, but were it not for the unspeakable din that arises from the hundred of throats, one would scarcely be aware of their presence, so inconspicuous are they against the dark water. If one disturbs them now, there is a rush of wings, but they do not fly far. Rail like they drop back into the marsh a short distance away, and soon resume their indescribable discord.* * *
This period of the migration, which I have termed the arrival of migrant adult males, continues for about two weeks before the resident birds begin to arrive. Each evening there is a well-defined flight into the marsh; each night the birds all roost together; and each morning they all leave for the north. The marsh to them at this period is a shelter for the night only, and the entire day is spent on the uplands.
The birds referred to at the beginning of this chapter by Brewster, Chapman, and the author probably belonged in this class, migrating adult males. Allen (1914) says of the arrival of resident adult males:
The arrival of resident males is first made clear by the actions of the birds themselves. To one unfamiliar with their habits the exact time of arrival is not apparent. Up to this time the birds, for the most part, have kept in more or less well-defined flocks. They have been difficult to approach, the slightest annoyance starting them off. * * * About the end of March, however, certain birds arrive, in whose actions a difference is noticed. They do not fly away at one’s approach, or, if frightened, soon return to the same spot. These birds do not associate with the migrating flocks, and they roost alone. If one is enabled to identify an individual bird among them by such characteristics as abnormal feet or the loss of its tail or a primary feather, as has frequently been done in this study, one finds that it never changes its station in the marsh after its arrival. * * * From their first arrival, they assume all rights to the domain in which they have established themselves. Frequently these domains adjoin one another closely, but- the birds seldom trespass on one another’s rights. When they do so, they seem to recognize the owner’s prerogative, so that serious quarrels never ensue.
The resident males have been at their stations only a few days before the first females and immature males appear among the migrating flocks. The last days of March and first of April usually usher them in. Says Allen (1914): “Within a few days, as their numbers increase, small flocks made up entirely of females are observed. It is about this time: the end of the first week in April: that the males begin to show a slight interest in the presence of the females. The former now spend more of their time in the marsh, and resent intrusion into their domains. By this time their reproductive organs show considerable increase in size. Among the migrating birds at this time there is an increasing preponderance of immature males and of females. The latter shun the presence of the males, and whenever they do approach one of the residents, they are immediately driven off.”
During the early part of the third week in April, another group arrives, the resident adult females. According to Allen (1914):
The flocks break up and the single birds scatter over the marsh, as did the resident males upon their first arrival. Usually they select a place near some male or group of males. They are much more retiring than the latter, however, and keep mostly near the water’s surface, where they are inconspicuous. Whenever they appear on the tops of the cat-tails, or more especially, when they attempt to fly, they are immediately pursued by one or more of the males. Occasionally a male drives a female in great circles over the marsh and even to a considerable height. Eventually, however, he relinquishes the pursuit and returns to his post. The earlier migrant females, when pursued in this way, immediately leave the marsh. But now, as the male ceases pursuit, the female checks her flight and is soon again at her station near the male. Such maneuvers announced the arrival of the resident females.
About the first week in May, after most of the adult resident birds have begun to nest, the resident immature males begin to appear in numbers. From the second week in May until the last of the month, these flocks continue to arrive The resident immature females begin to appear with the immature males about the middle of the month. They increase in numbers until the first of June, when they far outnumber the males, and by the second week, when the last migrating birds are recorded, they compose the entire flocks. Says Allen (1914), “It is doubtless through some of these birds, at a time when unattached males are difficult to find, that many of the cases of polygamy arise.”
Probably the movements of the different classes of migrants are not always as clearly defined as indicated by Allen. Fred M. Packard (1937), while banding redwings at the Austin Ornithological Research Station, at North Eastham, Mass., found “unsuspected variation in the behavior of the migrating birds on Cape Cod. Some were apparently true migrants; they were caught but once, and did not repeat. Others lingered for a few days or even a month, repeating during that period, and then left; these also were migrants. A third group stayed in the vicinity from the time of their arrival through the nesting period, as true residents. A large fourth group was composed of individuals that were trapped once or twice on arrival, and then disappeared, exactly like migrants; but these returned after an interval varying from 2 months to 2 weeks, some to nest nearby, others to disappear again.” Cape Cod is a long, narrow, curving peninsula pointing northward at its terminus and facing a broad expanse of water. Perhaps the returning birds of the fourth group preferred to turn back, rather than risk the long flight over the water.
Territory: As indicated above and as noted by all observers, the resident adult male, on his arrival on the breeding grounds or soon after that, “stakes out his claim” to the territory that he has decided to establish and to defend. This claim may be large or small, depending on the size of the marsh and the density of its population; in a large marsh with few redwings nesting in it, the territories may be extensive and well outlined; but in a dense colony, the claims are close together and the boundaries are not so well marked. The male stands his ground and defends his territory against intruding male redwings and other trespassing birds; he even drives away female redwings until he is ready to mate.
Ernst Mayr (1941) writes as follows on territorial behavior: “Early in the season, when the weather was still cold and the males had just recently established themselves in their territories, they spend a good deal of their time sitting on the, top of small bushes or old cat-tail stalks and calling softly chuck-chuck, particularly when migrating blackbirds flew overhead. They were rather fluffed up and only the yellow margin of their shield showed. As soon as a singing spell ‘overcame~ one of the birds his whole attitude changed, and he displayed his red brilliantly: only to fall back into his former lethargic condition when the singing was ended.”
Courtship: While the male redwings are defending their territories and driving away migrating redwings of both sexes, the resident females come, between April 10 and May 1 at Ithaca, according to Allen (1914). They select their own territories, where they plan to build their nests, and these are usually near the station of some established male or group of males. At first the male drives away the newcomer and chases her about over the marsh, but she returns to the spot she has selected. Eventually he is ready to select his mate and may be seen following her about. “He never allows her to escape from his sight, and as she hunts about near the water’s surface, he vaunts himself on the nearest cat-tail. They now may be considered mated.”
Probably most redwings are mated in pairs that are true to each other, but this is a matter that is not easily determined in a large colony. Allen (1914) says: “Certain pairs have been observed throughout the season, and found to be mated as steadfastly as are most birds, while in others the tie seems to bind only so long as the male is watchful and able to exert his lordship in driving away other males. A female has been observed to receive one male with spreading wings and quivering feathers, and in the next moment, when this bird had been driven off, to welcome the victor with the same freedom and display.”
Females sometimes take a more active part in the courtship performance as observed by Thomas Proctor (1897), who says: “And very amusing indeed it was to watch these comedians in sober brown, but in extemporized ruffs, puffs and puckers, pirouette, bow and posture, and thus quite out-do in airs and graces their black-coated gallants. Their shrill whistle, the meantime continually vied with, or replied to, the hoarse challenges of their admirers, while in noisy chattering, and in teasing notes, they were excessively voluble.”
It is generally believed that the redwing is often polygamous, though by no means always so. It is often evident that there are more females and more occupied nests in a marsh than there are males. In one swamp studied by Mayr (1941), he shows 12 nests in his sketch in what he supposed were 6 territories; he was unable to determine the exact number of males, but says that “there were not less than four and not more than six.” In another swamp, two males had two females each and another had only one.
Mabel Osgood Wright (1907) writes: “When Redwings live in colonies it is often difficult to estimate the exact relationship between the members, though it is apparent that the sober brown, striped females outnumber the males; but in places where the birds are uncommon and only one or two male birds can be found, it is easily seen that the household of the male consists of from three to five nests each presided over by a watchful female, and when danger arises this feathered Mormon shows equal anxiety for each nest, and circles screaming about the general location.”
Numerous banding records have indicated the males far outnumber the females, but this is probably due to the fact that the males enter the traps more readily than the more retiring females, and so are more often recorded. What is probably a more reliable conclusion as to the actual sex ratio was found in the careful studies of J. Fred Williams (1940). He states in his summary:
In a study of nestling Eastern Red-Wings made at Indian Lake, Ohio, from June 18 to July 22 it was found that the young could be sexed by dissection at any time after hatching .
With the age of nestlings known to the nearest day it proved possible to distinguish between the sexes by means of weights after the fifth day, and by means of tarsal lengths after the eighth day.
The following sex ratios were found:
Among 119 young, representing the full egg complements of 35 nests, 57 males: 62 females.
Among 94 young which were successfully fledged, 47 males: 47 females.
Among 21 young which died during the nesting period, 9 males: 12 females.
The apparent deviation of the first and third of these ratios from the expected 50:50 could easily be due to random variation in sampling.
To assume that the even 50:50 birth rate, or nearly that, is the rule, does not agree with the well-known fact that the females outnumber the males on the breeding grounds, unless we also assume that the females begin to breed when less than one year old and that the males, at least most of them, do not mate until they are nearly 2 years old. This is true of the yellow-headed blackbird, and probably also of the redwing. With the sexes as unbalanced, as they are in the breeding colonies, polygamy is likely to be quite prevaient and promiscuity, or even polyandry, may often occur, through the latter is probably rare.
Dr. Charles W. Townsend (1920) gives the following excellent account of the courtship display of the male:
The courtship of the Red-winged Blackbird centers as distinctly about the display of the scarlet epaulettes as does the courtship of the Peacock about the display of his train. The adult male Red-wing when absorbed in feeding is a plain blackbird with a pale yellow stripe on his shoulder or one with a narrow band of red. The color may even be entirely covered up by the prevailing blackness of his costume. When, however, his love passions are excited he spreads his tail, slightly opens his wings, puffs out all his feathers, and sings his quankquer-ee, or his still more watery and gurgling song, appropriate to an oozing bog, his SgIe-Oggle-yer. Now when he puffs out his body feathers he especially puffs Out, erects, and otherwise displays to their best advantage the gorgeous scarlet epaulettes. These patches become actually dazzling in their effect as he slowly flies toward the object of his affections, for these beauty spots are most effective when seen from in front.
While admiring the gorgeous display of brilliant scarlet and gold set in its framework of glossy black, one is apt to overlook the awkward posture of the bird; standing on some prominent perch, he leans forward, pointing his bill toward his tail beneath the branch, with his back hunched up, as if he were to become violently nauseated, suggesting the ludicrous performance of the cowbird.
AlIen (1914) mentions another form of courtship:
In addition to the ordinary display and erection of feathers, a method of soaring is now indulged in. In comparison with that of the Lark, it is rather crude, but undoubtedly it is akin to it. Mounting in a rather irregular spiral, the male bird attains a considerable height, where he hovers, oftentimes for long periods, while his wings barely flutter. Song is not generally indulged in. Eventually, with half-closed wings, the bird drops down in a zigzag course to the marsh. A dozen or more birds may frequently be seen in the air at once, as they perform these evolutions. At this time, also, hovering at a much lower height is frequently indulged in. With a few quick strokes of his wings, the male vaults from his post into the air, and with quivering wings and flaming shoulders, gives vent to his pent-up passion in the “scolding song” described above .
Nesting: Redwings build their nests in a variety of situations, though usually in a marsh, swamp, or wet meadow, where the nests are placed in cattails (Typhus) dead or living, rushes (Scirpus), sedges (Carex), tussocks of marsh grass, or such water-loving bushes as button bushes (Cephalanthus), alders (Atnus), or willows (Satix). Such associations in shallow ponds, or along the shores of lakes or the banks of sluggish streams, afford suitable nesting sites. Although the birds prefer the vicinity of water, their nests are often found on dry uplands, sometimes at a considerable distance from any water, in fields of tall grass, clover, and daisies, where they must be built close to or even on the ground. Nests in bushes and trees also have been reported by several observers.
A. D. Du Bois has sent me the data for 42 nests found in four Northern States; 3 of these were in trees or bushes from 8 to 9 feet above the ground; 2 were in clumps of nettles on the margin of a marsh, 2 feet above the dry ground. Of 24 nests, reported to me by T. E. McMullen, found in New Jersey, 6 were in bayberry bushes near marshes and among sand dunes near the ocean; one was 9 inches up in a clump of goldenrod in a clover field; and another was 8 inches up in a wild rose bush standing in 8 inches of water. Alexander F. Skutch tells me that he found two nests in upland alfalfa fields near Ithaca, N. Y. “The two were built in exactly similar situations, in the midst of the stalks of an alfalfa plant, with the bottom in each instance three inches above the ground.” Witmer Stone (1937) records redwings’ nests in privet hedges, marsh elders (Ivafrutescens), and one in a small cedar bush, in New Jersey. A. Sidney Hyde (1939) found a nest in a clump of vetch (Vicia) and another in a wild cherry shrub, in northern New York.
William Brewster (1937) says of the nesting habits of redwings at Lake Umbagog, Maine: “Most of them breed on small, floating islands moored not within areas permanently covered by the lake but in bordering marshes which have every appearance of thus belonging to it, whenever completely submerged. The islands float only at such times but they keep ever level with the surface of the water, however quickly it may rise or fall, yet seldom shift otherwise than vertically, being too firmly anchored to solid ground beneath by tough, flexible roots which proceed from living bushes: and perhaps also medium sized trees: that overspread what are essentially buoyant rafts of vegetable matter for the most part long since dead.”
Althea R. Sherman (1932) refers thus to tree nesting in Iowa: “It is 25 years since Red-winged Blackbirds began nesting in the tops of our trees, which grow more than half way up the hillside from a brook frequented by others of their species. Since 1907, when four females built nests at heights of 18 to 22 feet from the ground in separate plum trees, there has been great increase in growth of wild currant, wild gooseberry and elderberry bushes in our house yard of about an acre in extent. In these bushes more frequently than in the tops of plum trees do the Red-wings nest.”
C. J. Maynard (1883) adds the following: “”I have found the nests on an island in the marshes of Essex River, placed on trees twenty feet from the ground! In one case, where the nest was placed on a slender sapling fourteen feet high, that swayed with the slightest breeze, the nest was constructed after the manner of our Baltimore Orioles, prettily woven of the bleached sea-weed called eel-grass. So well constructed was this nest, and so much at variance with the usual style, that had it not been for the female sitting on it, I should have taken it for a nest of I. Baltimore. It was six inches deep.”
Dr. George M. Sutton (1942) published a photograph of another pensile nest, found by Malcom W. Rix in Oneida County, N. Y. It was suspended “at the end of a grape-covered willow branch, about three feet above water several feet deep. * * * The inside depth of the nest was only slightly greater than that of the general average of the species, and not comparable to that of a Baltimore Oriole’s nest. The color of the nest was distinctly that of a Red-wing’s, although the materials apparently were somewhat finer than usual.”
W. E. Clyde Todd (1940) mentions two Pennsylvania nests that were more than 30 feet from the ground in willow trees, the highest I have seen recorded. Brewster (1906) reports a nest in a vertical fork of a small apple tree in an orchard not far from a pond. Harold M. Holland (1923) found a redwing’s egg and a cowbird’s egg in a Bell’s vireo’s nest; and later an egg of the redwing and two cowbird’s eggs, in another Bell’s vireo’s nest, were so much like the eggs in the other nest that they appeared to have been laid by same interlopers.
Allen (1914) describes the progress of the nesting at Ithaca:
The first nests built are located in the dead stubs of the eat: tails that have been burned over during the previous fall. At first they are not sheltered by any vegetation of any kind, for the new growth is barely above the water. * * * As the season advances and the vegetation grows, green stalks are included in the support. At first these are not sufficiently strong to serve alone as a support, and consequently the nests are always attached on one side to the dead stub.* * *
This is true of most of the nests constructed in early May, and it generally results in disaster. So firmly are the nests fastened by the strands of milkweed fiber, that the side attached to the green blades is carried upward by their growth, while the other, attached to the dead stubs, remains fixed. As a result, the one side is lifted at the rate of almost an inch a day until the nest is inverted. The birds continue to incubate until the last egg is rolled out. * * * By the end of the third week in May, most of the vegetation in the marsh is sufficiently strong to support a nest, and as a result, nests built at this season are located rather indiscriminately in cattail, sedge, burreed, water horsetail, dock, or arrow arum. By the first of June the cat: tails and sedges are matured, and have become very dense and harsh. The Redwings now desert them for the softer vegetation, such as the dock and smart: weed, which by this time fill most of the small ponds.
The time required for building a complete nest is usually 6 days. Of this time, 3 days are spent on the outer basket and “felting,” and 3 days on the lining. Many of the later, more poorly built nests require much less time for construction, some of them being completed in as few as 3 days. * * * The construction of the nest, in all cases observed at Ithaca, has been entirely by the female. The male has never been seen with nesting material in his bill. He is very attentive, however, during the process.
* * * The adult birds commence building again, often before the first young have left the nest. The second nest is located in the immediate vicinity of the first, frequently within a distance of 10 feet. This is true also when the first nest has been robbed or destroyed. One pair, which was experimented upon, built 4 nests within a radius of 25 feet between April 25 and May 18 .
Nuttall (1832) gives us the most complete description of the nest of the redwing as follows:
Outwardly it is composed of a considerable quantity of the long dry leaves of Sedge-grass (Carex) or other kinds collected in wet situations, and occasionally the slender leaves of the flag (Iris) carried round all the adjoining twigs of the bush by way of support or suspension, and sometimes blended with strips of the lint of the swamp Asclepics, or silk-weed (Asclepics incarnate). The whole of this exterior structure is also twisted in and out, and carried in loops from one side of the nest to the other, pretty much in the manner of the Orioles, but made of less flexible and handsome materials. The large interstices that remain, as well as the bottom, are then filled in with rotten wood, marsh-grass roots, fibrous peat, or mud, so as to form, when dry, a stout and substantial, though concealed shell, the whole very well lined with fine dry stalks of grass or with slender rushes (Scirpi). When the nest is in a tussock, it is also tied to the adjoining stalks of herbage; but when on the ground this precaution of fixity is laid aside.
Harold B. Wood sends me the following note: “A dissected nest, which had been built around 18 burreed stalks, was composed of 142 cattail leaves, up to 21 inches in length, and lined with 705 pieces of grasses. It also contained 34 strips of bark of water willow, up to 34 inches in length, which made 273 laps around the reeds, with only one making a complete loop around a stalk. The tensile strength of the matting was tested by placing in the nest increasing weights until a weight of four pounds was held before the nest began to slip down the reeds. Eleven of 42 nests were completed and never used; no nest was ever used for a second brood. Red-wings will not abandon eggs merely because they are discovered, as will robins.”
Eggs: The eastern redwing lays from three to five eggs in a set, usually four. Bendire (1895) describes them as follows:
The eggs of the Red-winged Blackbird are mostly ovate in shape; the shell is strong, finely granulated, and moderately glossy. The ground color is usually pale bluish green, and this is occasionally more or less clouded with a pale smokegray suffusion. They are spotted, blotched, marbled, and streaked, mostly about the larger end, with different shades of black, brown, drab, and heliotrope purple, presenting great variation in the amount, character, and style of markings. Occasionally an entirely unspotted egg is found.
The average measurement of 380 eggs in the United States National Museum collection is 24.80 by 17.55 millimetres, or about 0.98 by 0.69 inch. The largest egg in the series measures 27.94 by 19.05 millimetres, or 1.10 by 0.75 inches; the smallest, 20.57 by 15.75 millimetres, or 0.81 by 0.62 inch.
Young: Allen (1914) has this to say about the incubation of the Eggs: “During the days when the eggs are being deposited, frequently both birds continue their excursions to the uplands. With the laying of the third egg, incubation begins, and thenceforth both birds remain in the marsh. Incubation, so far as observed, is performed entirely by the female. In one instance the first egg hatched in ten days, and frequently one or more of the eggs requires twelve, but the usual period is eleven days.”
Of the development of the young, he writes:
At hatching the young are blind and helpless. The skin is scarlet, with but a scant covering of buffy or grayish down along the principal feather tracts. They are at first exceedingly helpless, scarcely able to raise their heads for food, but they gain strength rapidly after the first feeding. During the first day there is considerable increase in size. On the second day feather sheaths of the primaries and secondaries show distinctly. By the third day these feather sheaths appear distinctly along all of the tracts. On the fourth and fifth days there is a great increase in the size of the body and in the length of the quills. On the sixth the feather sheaths of the wing break open. On the seventh the wing feathers have grown considerably, and those of the other tracts begin to break. On the eighth all of the sheaths have broken, and the wing feathers have attained considerable length. On the ninth the feathers have grown still further, but do not yet cover all of the bare spaces. The young can fly short distances, however, and can not be kept in the nest if once frightened or removed. If the nest has become polluted, as frequently occurs when it has become greatly compressed by the growing vegetation, they may leave of their own accord on this day. On the tenth the stronger of the young leave and climb to near-by supports. If the nest is approached, all leave, but otherwise the weaker remain until the eleventh day, when all scatter to the vegetation in the immediate vicinity. They all remain in this neighborhood for at least ten days, even after the parents have ceased caring for them and have started a second brood.
He quotes from F. H. Herrick as follows: “In the space of four hours on the first day * * * fifty-four visits were made and the young were fed forty times. The female brooded her young over an hour, fed them twenty-nine times, and cleaned the nest thirteen times. The male made eleven visits, attending to sanitary matters but twice. * * * On the following day, * * * in the course of nearly three and one-half hours, 55 visits were made, and the young were fed collectively or singly 43 times. * * * The male bird served food eleven times and attended to sanitary matters once. In the course of forty-two minutes the first young bird to leave the nest was fed eight times, seven times by the mother and once by the father.”
Allen continues: “The principal insects eaten are May flies, caddis flies, and lepidopterous larvae. Generally three or four insects are brought each time, and one delivered to each young. This is not always the case, however, for sometimes the entire mass is given to one bird. There seems to be no order in this distribution the young bird with the longest neck and widest mouth always getting fed first. The food is delivered well down into the throat of the young, and if not immediately swallowed is removed and given to another.”
Ira N. Gabrielson (1914) listed the following items given to a brood of young redwings during 51 feedings: 12 unidentified items, 11 wireworms, 1 cricket, 3 beetles, 2 May flies, 3 other flies, 4 green worms, 20 grasshoppers, 3 moths, 1 spider, 4 tomato worms, and 1 measuring worm.
Wood says in his notes: “Of the 37 nests which were followed through the season, 16 had successful broods; 23 contained 73 eggs, of which 53 hatched (72 percent). From these 73 eggs only 35 fullgrown young birds left the nests, a productivity of 48 percent. Two out of 94 eggs were infertile.” In his published paper (1938), he writes: “The ability of a nestling redwing to take care of himself was tested. A nestling less than two or three days old would be apt to drown if it should tumble out of the nest. As they grow older they become more able to save themselves. Placed in water, the half grown nestling will float and can swim, but in a very excited manner. They will swim to the reeds and hold on, calling for their parents. When well covered with feathers, but yet a few days before being ready to vacate the nest, they readily swim, but excitedly, and can climb up the cattails to the nest. They are not combative and can not protect themselves against enemies.”
Probably two broods are normally raised in a season, and perhaps often three.
Plumages: The early nestling plumages are described above. Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage of the young male as follows: “Above, including sides of head, wings, tail, and lesser coverts (i. e., the so called ‘shoulders’) dull brownish black (no red at this stage), the feathers edged with bull’, palest and narrowest on primaries, rectrices, head and rump, and richest on scapulars and secondaries. Below pinkish buff, ochraceous on the chin, thickly streaked (except on the chin) with brownish black. Obscure superciliary line ochraceous-buff.”
A complete postjuvenal molt, beginning in August, the time varying for the earlier and later broods, produces the first winter plumage of the male, in which the “entire plumage, including wings and tail,” is “greenish black much veiled with buffy and ferruginous edgings, palest below and faint or absent on primaries and rectrices. Lesser wing coverts (‘shoulders’) dull orpiment-orange, each feather with subterminal bars or spots of black. Median coverts rich ochraceous buff usually mottled with black subterminal areas chiefly on the inner webs, the shafts usually black.”
The first nuptial plumage is “acquired by wear, which is considerable, birds becoming a dull brownish black by loss of the feather edgings and by fading. The mottled ‘shoulder patches’ are characteristic of young birds, the amount of orange varying greatly. The wings and tail show marked wear.”
A complete postnuptial molt occurs in August, at which young and old become practically indistinguishable. Dwight describes this adult winter plumage of the male as “lustrous greenish black, feathers of head and back, greater wing coverts and tertiaries edged more or less (according to the individual) with buff and ferruginous brown. Below, the edgings are paler or absent. The bright scarlet-vermilion ‘shoulders’ are acquired together with the rich ochraceous buff median coverts.”
The full brilliancy of the spring plumage is produced by wear, the buff and brown edgings disappearing; the wings and tails of the adults show less wear than in the young birds .
Of the plumages of the female, Dwight (1900) writes; “In natal down and juvenal plumage females differ little from males, the juvenile dress perhaps averaging browner above with less buff below and the chin narrowly streaked. The first winter plumage is acquired by a complete postjuvenal moult as in the male, from which the female now differs widely, being brown and broadly streaked. The first winter plumage is hardly distinguishable from the adult winter and passes into the first nuptial by wear, which produces a black and white streaked bird, brown above. A pinkish or salmon tinge is often found in females in any of these plumages, especially about the chin and head, and an orange or crimson tinge may show on the ‘shoulders’ of the older birds.”
Food: Beal (1900) prepared an extensive report on the food of the redwing, based on an examination of 1,083 stomachs collected during every month in the year from most of its range in the United States and Canada. In spite of the prevailing impression that redwings are very injurious to the farmer’s interests, his diagram shows no very decided foundness for grain, as most of the birds’ food consisted of weed seeds and insects. Unfortunately, no stomachs were examined from the rice-growing region during sowing and harvesting of this crop, where considerable damage is claimed. “The food of the year was found to consist of 73.4 percent of vegetable matter and 26.6 percent of animal.” His table shows the following average percentages for the 12 months: Animal Food: predaceous beetles 2.5, snoutbeetles 4.1, other beetles 3.5, caterpillars 5.9, grasshoppers 4.7, other insects 4.1, spiders and myriapods 1.3, other animal food 0.5, total 26.6 percent; vegetable Food: fruit 0.6, corn 4.6, oats 6.3, wheat 2.2, other grain 0.8, weed seeds 54.6, other vegetable food 4.3; total: 73.4 percent. The consumption of weed seeds amounts to 97 percent in November.
Another table shows the frequency with which certain vegetable foods were taken. Among the larger items, oats were found in 190 stomachs and corn in 117. Weed seeds of some kind were apparently found in all the stomachs, panic grass in 168, bear grass in 271, ragweed in 189, and smartweed in 200. Small fruits were seldom eaten, blackberries being found in 7 stomachs, blueberries in 2, and gooseberries, strawberries, and currants were found in only one stomach each.
Of 84 specimens examined by F. H. King in Wisconsin, 37 had eaten corn and weed seeds, 31 only seeds, 7 only corn, 3 rye, 2 oats, 8 wheat, and 2 tender herbage; five had eaten 7 beetles, four 7 grasshoppers, one a moth, and one a caterpillar; eight had eaten small mollusks. Bendire (1895) includes small mollusks and newts in the food. Forbush (1907) writes: “They forage about the fields and meadows when they first come north in the spring. Later, they follow the plow, picking up grubs, worms, and caterpillars; and should there be an outbreak of cankerworms in the orchard, the Blackbirds will fly at least half a mile to get cankerworms for their young. Wilson estimated that the Red-wings of the United States would in four months destroy sixteen thousand, two hundred million larvae.”
During the nesting season, much of the redwings’ food is obtained in the marshes, but they resort regularly to the uplands to glean insects, grain, and seeds in the plowed fields, cultivated lands, and recently cut hay fields. They even resort to trees at times. Dii Bois says in bis notes: “From an upstairs window I watched a female redwing, as she searched the foliage of the nearby basswood for the small, smooth, green caterpillars which infest these trees. Her method was similar to that of the vireos, though she lacked some of their skill and grace. She hopped from twig to twig, eating the caterpillars from the leaves; and once she made a little flight to take a caterpillar from the under side of a leaf while hovering in the air. I had seen a female redwing at the same business in this tree before.”
Francis H. Allen writes to me: “In October the redwings feed on the seeds of a white ash behind my house. They come there day after day, sometimes for a week at a time. I notice the manner of feeding of a small flock composed of both sexes. After reaching up and picking off a samara, the bird held it against the twig on which it perched and in this way evidently detached the wing, or perhaps shelled the seed. They seemed to be unable to cut off the wing with the bill alone without a solid twig to aid them. My neighbor, Mr. John S. Codman, has seen redwings eating seeds from white pine cones in the tops of the trees, perching on the cones as they picked them out.”
Southerners have complained that redwings pull up the long-leaf pine seedlings to eat the seeds. But they are useful in destroying the cotton boll weevil in the south and the alfalfa weevil, two of our most destructive weevils. They also eat the larvae of the gypsy moth and the tent caterpillar.
Economic Status: On its northern breeding grounds the eastern redwing is almost wholly beneficial, and comparatively few complaints are made of serious damage to crops. Its food while here consists almost entirely of insects, very few of which are useful species, and weed seeds, which form by far the largest proportion of its food. The young are fed almost exclusively on insects. It does some damage to sprouting grain in the spring, and to sweet corn in the summer, while the kernels are soft and milky, by tearing off the husks and ruining the ears for the market. Other grains are also attacked to a limited extent, but much of the grain eaten is waste grain picked up from the ground.
In the Middle West, where the redwings are much more abundant and where the cereal crops are more extensively cultivated, these and other blackbirds, in late summer and fall, swoop down in vast hordes on the grain fields and do an immense amount of damage to the grain both while it is ripening and while it is being harvested. Even there, the redwing has some good points in its favor. Lawrence Bruner (1896) writes from Nebraska: “Even when it visits our corn fields it more than pays for the corn it eats by the destruction of the worms that lurk under the husks of a large percent of the ears in every field. Several years ago the beet fields in the vicinity of Grand Island were threatened great injury by a certain caterpillar that had nearly defoliated all the beets growing in many of them. At about this time large flocks of this bird appeared and after a week’s sojourn the caterpillar plague had vanished, it having been converted into bird tissue.”
In the Southern States, it does great damage to the rice crop by pulling up the seedling rice plants in the spring and by eating the soft grain as it ripens. In this respect the redwing is almost as bad as the bobolink. It does some good, however, by destroying the seeds of the so-called “volunteer” rice, which, if allowed to grow, would injure the value of the crop.
S. D. Judd (1901) says that on the fall migration, bobolinks and redwings converge and swarm into the limited area of the rice districts so as to destroy annually $2 million worth of the crop. And B. H. Warren (1890) quotes T. S. Wilkinson as saying: “The rice crop in Louisiana, from the time the rice is in the milk till harvest time and during harvesting, is much damaged by birds, principally the Red shouldered Blackbird. Shooting is the only remedy thus far resorted to which is at all effective, and it is only partially so. I have known rice crops to be destroyed to the extent of over 50 percent, which is a loss of say $13 per acre. While this is an extreme case, a damage and expense of from $5 to $10 per acre is very common.”
Beal (1900) says in conclusion: “In summing up the economic status of the redwing the principal point to attract attention is the small percentage of grain in the year’s food, seemingly so much at variance with the complaints of the bird’s destructive habits. Judged by the contents of the stomach alone, the redwing is most decidedly a useful bird. The service rendered by the destruction of noxious insects and weed seeds far outweighs the damage due to its consumption of grain. The destruction that it sometimes causes must be attributed entirely to its too great abundance in some localities.”
Behavior: On the ground the redwing walks deliberately, or runs, or hops rapidly when trying to keep up with a feeding flock. In late summer or early fall, one may occasionally see immense flocks of redwings mixed with grackles, cowbirds, and starlings feeding in the open fields. Such flocks sometimes contain hundreds or even thousands of birds. I have seen flocks that covered as much as an acre or more in a broad expanse of meadow or pasture land, densely spread over the ground like a great black mantle. The flock moves along steadily as it feeds, all moving in the same direction; at intervals those in the rear rise, fly over the main flock, and settle in front of the advancing horde, to resume their feeding; this happens again and again, giving the impression of a vast rolling cloud of black birds. When the edge of the field is reached the whole mass rises in a body, to rest in the treetops for a time, or to swoop down into another field.
In the air the flight of the redwing is characteristic; it flies with bursts of rapid wingbeats, between which are slight intermittent pauses, producing a somewhat wavy motion. The flocks are in orderly formation, wheeling and turning in unison, but the individual birds in the flock are constantly changing their positions, rising and falling more or less independently. The vast flocks that travel about through the Southern States in fall and winter are most impressive. Pearson (1925) writes: “At this time they may be seen in flocks numbering tens of thousands, and they present a marvelous spectacle as they fly with all the precision of perfectly trained soldiers. I have seen fully thirty thousand of them while in full flight suddenly turn to the right or the left or at the same instant swoop downward as if they were all driven by common impulse. They perform many wonderful feats of flight when on the wing. Sometimes a long billow of moving birds will pass across the fields, the ends of the flying regiment alternately sinking and rising, or even appearing to tumble about like a sheet of paper in a high wind.”
Wilson (1832) says: “Sometimes they appeared driving about like an enormous black cloud carried before the wind, varying its shape every moment; sometimes suddenly rising from the fields around me with a noise like thunder; while the glittering of innumerable wings of the brighest vermilion amid the black cloud they formed, produced on these occasions a very striking and splendid effect.”
Redwings are very aggressive in driving away any large bird that approaches their nesting places; crows, hawks, and even ospreys are vigorously attacked and pursued sometimes far beyond the boundaries of the territories; even the bittern is driven to cover in the marsh. Francis Allen tells me that he once saw a redwing “riding on a crow’s back for an appreciable length of time.”
If a man approaches a nesting colony, even within a hundred feet, the male redwing rises from his lookout perch and flies out to meet him with loud cries of alarm or harsh clucks, hovering over his head and threatening to attack him, but seldom actually striking him. Alexander F. Skutch says in his notes: “As I crossed one large meadow where several redwings apparently had nests, I had an escort of guardian males all the way; for as soon as I passed beyond the bounds of the domain of one of them and he dropped behind, another vigilant bird would take over, hover over me, and shriek down imprecations.”
Du Bois writes to me of a most pugnacious redwing, saying: “He would hover directly over my head, where I could not see him, and from that advantageous position would strike the top of my head, pecking so hard-through a thin summer cap that the blows were quite stinging. After he had struck repeatedly, I hoisted a bamboo staff that I was carrying, directly under him, thus forcing him upward; but he alighted on the top of the staff and sat there, temporarily, looking down at me. Three days later, when I had stooped over, near his nest, he struck me on the back and on the arm, and even alighted for an instant on my back. He attacked the camera, also, when I left it standing on its tripod covered with a focussing cloth.”
The great fall and winter roosts of redwings and other blackbirds are well known, but few have noted the early summer roosts of the males alone while the females are busy with their nesting. Dr. A. K. Fisher (1896) has told us about this as observed in southern New York in June: “The red-winged blackbird is another species which appears to leave its mate and family to spend the night in company with other males. While watching in this marsh during the early summer evenings the writer has seen flocks composed wholly of males flying in, from an hour before sunset until dusk. Some of these bands contained a hundred or more noisy fellows, while others were made up of only eight or ten individuals. It is probable that all of the males of a given inland marsh band together toward sunset and come to the great rendezvous to spend the night.”
Experiments were conducted by Reginald D. Manwell (1941), at Syracuse, N. Y., in April and May, to determine the strength of the homing instinct in the redwing. He released 133 males at distances varying from 2 to 210 miles from the place of capture; of these, 47 birds were recaptured after their return. “The proportion of birds recaught after any given liberation did not exceed 50 percent and was generally not over 33 percent.” Some others may have returned, but were not captured. Most of them returned within a week or two, but some did not appear until the following spring.
Voice: Aretas A. Saunders contributes the following full account of the song: “The song of the red-wing, well known to bird lovers as conqueree, is actually much more variable than this simple rendition. It generally consists of from 1 to 6 short notes, followed by a somewhat longer trill. The quality is pleasing, and the presence of prominent liquid and explosive consonant sounds give it a gurgling sound.
“The con queree song, to my ear more like ko-lclareeee, is by far the commonest form, the first note being lowest in pitch, the second medium, and the trill highest. Of 102 records of red-wing songs, 46 have 2 notes followed by a trill, and 19 are as described above. A good many songs of different individuals are apparently just alike, beginning on A”, the second note on C”‘, and the trill on E”‘. On one occasion I listened to 8 birds singing in chorus: 6 of them sang this song, another ended with the trill on D”‘, and the other began on C”‘ and ended on G”‘, but all sang the simple 2 notes and a trill.
“Of my records, 10 have only 1 note before the trill, 29 have 3 notes, 9 have 4 notes, 1 has 5, and 1 has 6; 6 other records do not end in a trill, but follow the trill by a low-pitched terminal note Ico ldareeee tup. While it is common for the trill to be the highest pitch of the song, I have 14 records in which the note before the trill is about 1 tone higher than the trill. A peculiar variation, of which I have 9 records, has the trill made up of notes slow enough to be heard separately and counted. In such cases the number of notes in the trill varies from 5 to 7. Such songs usually have but 1 note before the trill, so that such a song sounds like Ica-lililililip.
“Red-wing songs are short, varying from 4/5 to 13/5 seconds. The range of pitch, however, is great, from A’ to G”‘. Individual songs are very variable in range of pitch, from half a tone to 8 1/2 tones. The commonest range, and about the average, is 3 1/2 tones; 20 of my records have this range; 10 other records range the 6 tones of a full octave, and 10 more range over an octave. Songs with the greater ranges have 4 to 6 notes before the trill .
“When a male red-wing sings, it commonly spreads the tail, halfspreads the wings, ruffles up the feathers on its back, and lifts the red feathers on its ‘shoulders,’ so that they flash brilliantly with the coming of the con queree. At times it sings in flight, and often, when flying from one perch to another, hovers a foot or so above the contemplated perch and sings just before alighting. In the spring migration one may find a flock of male red-wings in the tree-tops, nearly every one singing at short intervals, so that the result is a loud continuous chorus. In May, in the nesting season, in a cat-tail marsh well populated with red-wings, there is a chorus of song just as daylight is beginning. Each male sings his song two or three times a minute, and each female continuously emits a high-pitched, sharp call. I do not remember to have heard this call at any other time.
“The common call of the red-wing, usually written chacic, often sounds to me more like teacic. An alarm note, used when one nears the nest, is a downward slurred pecak, and another, less frequently heard, is a mournful sounding downward slide, like peeiiaoh.
“The season of song begins with the first arrival in spring, which in Connecticut is March or sometimes late February. It terminates in late July or early August. The average of 17 years is July 25, the earliest July 16, 1917, in Connecticut, and the latest August 5, 1940, in Cattaraugus County, New York. Ordinarily red-wings do not sing at all in the fall, but once, October 31, 1937, I found a small flock of males, several of them singing.”
Du Bois writes to me: “On April 2S and 29, 1930,1 beard a thrushlike song suggestive of the veery coming from somewhere beyond a house; and on May 2, I definitely saw a female red-wing singing this song at the edge of the marsh by the road.” I can find no other mention of a female song.
Witmer Stone (1937) gives his impression of the voices of the pair when their breeding ground is invaded as follows:
As one approaches the nesting site the male launches into the air and begins to call sheep; sheep; sheep; sheep; each call separated from the next by an interval. Then as the excitement increases there is a long drawn zeeet interpolated irregularly thus: sheep; sheep; sheep; sheep; zeect; sheep; aheep; sheep; zeeel; sheep; sheep; seed, etc., the bird all the while poised on rapidly beating wings directly overhead, and now and then swooping down still closer. The female, arising from her perch on a cattail, has a similar note but less harsh than the sheep of the male, and she also utters a much more rapid and differently pitched series of notes; chip-chip-chip-chip; chip-chip-chip-chip-chip, etc., then both birds alight on a bayberry bush and call together, the female seeming to relieve the male entirely from the first part of his cry and to her repeated chip-chip-chip-chip, etc.. he contributes only the long drawn reed at regular intervals so that the combination is almost like his opening effort.
In recording the vibration frequencies of passerine song, Albert R. Brand (1938) found that the highest note in the song of the eastern redwing had a frequency of 4,375 vibrations per second, the lowest note 1,450, with an approximate mean of 2,925 vibrations per second.
Enemies: Probably more redwings have been killed by man than by any other one agency, for when they swoop down in clouds on the corn fields, grain fields, and rice plantations they have been slaughtered in multitudes to protect the crops. Wilson (1832) gives the following graphic account of how they used to be killed in great numbers, wbile roosting at night in the marshes. In some places: when the reeds become dry, advantage is taken of this circumstance, to destroy these birds, by a party secretly approaching the place, under cover of a dark night, setting fire to the reeds in several places at once, which being soon enveloped in one general flame, the uproar among the Blackbirds becomes universal; and, by the light of the conflagration, they are shot down in vast numbers, while hovering and screaming over the place. Sometimes straw is used for the same purpose, being previously strewed near the reeds and alder bushes, where they are known to roost, which being instantly set on fire, the consternation and havoc is prodigious; and the party return by day to pick up the slaughtered game.
Before it was made illegal to sell game in the market, redwings were killed in large numbers in the fall and sold in markets as “reed-birds”; when fattened on grain or rice, their little bodies served as delicious morsels for the gourmand’s table; few could distinguish them from bobolinks.
The high mortality rate in the nestlings has been mentioned above; probably 50 percent of the eggs laid fail to produce young large enough to leave the nest. The large nesting colonies are fruitful bunting grounds for furred and feathered predators. Crows and grackles eat the eggs, and even the small nestlings, if they are left unguarded. Dr. Allen (1914) accuses the long-billed marsh wren as being accountable for the greatest devastation, which is rather strange since they live so close together in the marshes. He says:
While I was standing near a nest containing two eggs, I noticed a peculiarly acting Marsh Wren about 30 feet away. The vivacious notes so characteristic of the species were not uttered. It made its way through the vegetation directly toward the nest until within about 10 feet of me, when it began to circle. After I had retired to a distance of about 15 feet, the Wren went without hesitation straight to the nest, hopped upon the rim, and, bending forward, delivered several sharp blows with its beak upon one of the eggs. It then began to drink the contents much as a bird drinks water. After a few sips, it grasped the eggshell in its beak and flew off into the marsh, where it continued its feast. * * * That cases are not isolated is shown by the fact that of 51 nests of the Redwing observed in a limited area, the eggs of 14 were destroyed in this or in a similar way, and it is not at all uncommon to find one or more of the eggs of a nest with neat, circular holes in one side, such as would be made by the small, sharp beak of a Wren.
J. A. Weber (1912), of Palisades Park, N. J., tells of seeing a bronzed grackle causing a great commotion in a colony of redwings. He shot the grackle and found a young redwing in its bill; the skull of the young bird, which was large enough to have been out of the nest for about a week, had been crushed. An investigation of the nests in the vicinity showed them to contain only one or two young in each, indicating that the grackles may have robbed them. Usually the grackles take only the eggs or the very small nestlings.
The reactions in a redwing colony to the presence of hawks and other large birds show that they are regarded as potential enemies; great horned owls could do considerable damage to the adults and also to the larger young, as could marsh, sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s hawks; even the apparently inoffensive bittern might not object to eating a tender nestling. Minks, foxes, and weasels, and in the drier spots squirrels, could easily climb to the nests and destroy the eggs or young. Wood says in his notes that “water snakes, Natrix sipedon, seen in the swamp, gave evidence of having destroyed some nests.” The damage done to nests, eggs, and young by predators is, however, not always a total loss to the productive capacity of the colony, for the redwings will continue to build new nests and make repeated attempts to raise their broods until well into midsummer, when their reproductive urge wanes.
Friedmann (1929) calls the redwing “a fairly common but rather local victim” of the cowbird. At Ithaca, Allen (1914) found hundreds of nests but never any cowbirds’ eggs. On the other hand, Walter A. Goelitz (1916), of Ravina, Ill., writes: “Until this year I have never found the eggs of this bird in Red-wing nests, but in a little colony of some twenty-five pairs of Red-wing Blackbirds, I destroyed eleven Cowbird eggs on June 17th and six on June 27th of the present season.~~ Robert H. Wolcott (1899) never saw a cowbird’s egg in a redwing’s nest during his collecting in Michigan, but found it not unusual in Nebraska. He says: “The owners of the nest, in case eggs of their own have already been deposited, apparently peck holes in ail, including that of the intruder, and desert the nest. But in one instance a nest was found where the single, still fresh Cowbird’s egg which it contained had been almost entirely buried beneath a new floor, and above this were four Blackbird’s eggs.”
Out of hundreds of nests, found at Buckeye Lake, Ohio, by Milton B. Trautman (1940), “a Cowbird’s egg was found in each of 4 nests. These nests were isolated. Apparently, it was sometimes possible for a Cowbird to lay its egg in a solitary nest without discovery, whereas if it attempted to lay an egg in a nest in a colony, it was driven away. Once eggs were in the nests the Cowbird was not tolerated about the nesting colonies.”
Redwings are afflicted with a number of external and internal parasites; Allen (1914) lists four species of Acarina and three of Mallophaqa; and Harold S. Peters (1936) names three species of lice, one fly, three mites, and two ticks that infest the eastern redwing.
In spite of their many enemies, some redwings seem to live for a reasonable number of years. From his study of banding records on Cape Cod, Mass., Packard (1937) has this to say about longevity: “Averages compiled from the 266 returns show that 16 percent of the total number of Red-wings banded survived one year, 7 percent two years, 4 percent three years, 2 percent four years, and 0.3 percent five years after banding.” This takes no account of any survivors that did not return to the traps; and the ages of banded birds is not always known. He continues: “The oldest males in the records are two banded as adults in April 1931, and taken yearly through 1936. As it requires at least two years to attain to adult plumage, these birds were hatched in 1929, or earlier, thus being at least seven years old. Several females lived five years after banding.” Banding records published by May Thacher Cooke (1937) show that 6 redwings lived for 5 years after banding, 2 for 6 years and 1 for 8 years; only 2 of the 5-year-old birds were banded as young birds, so that some of the others may have been 2 years older than the records indicate.
Field marks: The male redwing, with his gaudy epaulets, is unmistakable; but the female, with her brown back and streaked breast, is much less conspicuous. At a distance, redwings in any plumage can often be recognized by their flight and flock formations, as described above and as suggested by the field marks of the yellowheaded blackbird.
Fall: After the young of the second brood are strong on the wing, sometime in July, the fern ales and young gather in flocks and feed on the uplands during the day, returning to the marshes to roost at night. The adult males form separate flocks and follow the same plan. But early in August, all the redwings seem to disappear, during the molting period, and are not much in evidence until the middle of September or later, all in fresh plumage and ready to migrate. Allen (1914) explains this disappearance as follows:
The adult males, which begin molting about two weeks earlier than the females or young, are the first to go, and shortly they are followed by the females and young. To the ordinary observer they have completely disappeared. No longer are they seen leaving the marsh in the morning or returning at evening. Along the ponds, streams, and lake shore there are none to be seen. They are apparently gone from the neighborhood. If at this time, however, one penetrates into the heart of the marsh, where the flags wave four and five feet over his head, he may hear a rush of wings ahead of him as a flock of birds breaks from cover and drops again into the flags a short distance beyond. He may hear this again and again, and yet never see a bird, so impenetrable is the thicket of flags. A few vigorous “squeaks,” however, such as frequently draw birds from cover, and the secret is disclosed. A flock of tailless, short-winged birds hover above his head for a moment, and then is off again into the tangle. If specimens are collected, the disappearance of the Red-wings is no longer mysterious. Aside from the loss of the tail, which is obvious, one finds that the outer primary feathers are but just breaking their sheaths. With such handicaps, it is no wonder that the long flights to the uplands are not attempted, and that they seek protection in the effectual shelter of the marsh.
About the middle of September, the males appear again on the uplands, 2 weeks ahead of the females and young. Says Allen (1914):
Well defined migration begins about the middle of October. At that time all loitering ceases, and the evening and morning flights in and out of the marsh are very regular, scarcely a bird lingering during the day. Beginning about three fourths of an hour before, and continuing about half an hour after the sun has disappeared behind the hills, they can be seen in flocks of from ten to a thousand continually dropping into the marsh. * * * The form of the flock is rather irregular, but always with the long axis at right angles to the direction of flight, thus differing from the characteristic form of the flocks of Grackles which sometimes extend for over a mile in length, although only a few rods wide. The maximum flight occurs at sundown. The morning flight is not so regular as that in the evening, and it extends over a shorter period. Beginning a few minutes before sunrise, flocks are continually in sight for about thirty minutes. Their formation is open and they vary in numbers from a few to over ten thousand birds, the largest flocks extending to the east and to the west as far as the eye can see, but generally not more than a hundred birds deep. * * * The method of segregation of these birds in the morning flight is interesting. A single male or a small group of males, finding themselves in a flock of females, drop out of the ranks and await the appearance of a flock of their own sex, or until their own numbers are sufficiently augmented to form a flock of some size, which they are again up and away.* * *
The fall migration continues until about the middle of November. The last birds seen are generally scattered flocks of females.”
The southward migration from Cape Cod, and perhaps from other localities in southern New England, apparently starts much earlier than from Ithaca, N. Y., as described above, due to different conditions in the marshes. Fred M. Packard (1936) writes: “The swamps of Cape Cod differ considerably from those about Ithaca. Cat-tails are few at the station, and the marsh plants rarely grow taller than four feet, affording but little shelter. * * * While the marsh studied by Dr. Allen is an ideal place for birds to remain undisturbed during the molting period, the swamps of Cape Cod seem poorly suited for such a purpose.” From “the almost complete absence of Red-wings in September and later at the station,” and from the dates and localities of recoveries of birds banded at the station, he concludes that they “begin the southward migration in July and August before the summer molt is started, and that they probably complete the molt in swamps after their migration has begun. Unlike the swamps of Cape Cod, many of the marshes on the flight route, such as those found near Newark and Salem, New Jersey, afford suitable protection for molting, comparable to that provided by the marsh at Ithaca.”
His map, showing fall and winter recoveries of banded birds, indicates that the flight route from Cape Cod follows along the north shore of Long Island Sound to northern New Jersey, across that State to the Delaware River, avoiding the seacoast of New Jersey, and then along the coastal marshes to South Carolina. All but 1 of his 18 recoveries came from these marshes.
Milton B. Trautman (1940) has this to say about the migration of redwings at Buckeye Lake, Ohio: “During fall the species was more numerous than it was at any other season, and many thousands were present daily. On September 10, 1927, Edward S. Thomas took a picture of a small part of a flying flock. There were more than 400 birds in the picture, and we estimated that there were at least 10,000 in the flock. Undoubtedly, there were days during each fall when 20,000 to 50,000 were present.”
Winter: The winter range of the eastern redwing includes much of its breeding range in the southeastern and southern States. Most of the birds spend the winter south of the Ohio and Delaware Rivers, and from northern Florida to northern Louisiana and northeastern Texas. But some few are to be found occasionally in winter considerably north of these limits, even as far north and east as southeastern Massachusetts, locally and chiefly along the coast.
Their winter habits are much like those of the fall months, when they travel about in large mixed flocks with cowbirds, rusty blackbirds, grackles, and starlings. Milton P. Skinner (1928) says that, in North Carolina in winter, they show a tendency to join with meadowlarks and pipits. He says further: “During the winter from Christmas until March 1927, there was a flock of 200 Red-winged Blackbirds almost constantly with the Cowbirds about the Pinehurst stock-yards. Although they were usually on the ground, they often alighted on low oaks, sapling pines and even on tall gums, clustering close together on the very top in compact flocks. Occasionally flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds were seen elsewhere, particularly about old cowpea fields. Early in the winter, and again after the winter was over, I found these blackbirds about old cornfields, freshly planted oat fields, and swampy places, but I did not see them there during the winter.”
Range: Southeastern Canada to Florida .
Breeding Range: The eastern redwing breeds from eastern Nebraska, Missouri, eastern Iowa (Johnson and Clayton Counties), northern Wisconsin (Danbury), central Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie, Lake Abitibi), southern Quebec (Saint F6licien, Gasp~), New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and central Nova Scotia; south to northeastern Texas, northeastern Louisiana (Mer Rouge, Tallulah), northern Mississippi, south-central Alabama, southwestern Georgia (Newton), central-northern Florida (Cherry Lake, Gainesville), and southern (except the extreme southwest) Georgia (Savannah).
Winter Range: Winters rarely north to Kansas, southern Ontario (Chatham, Ottawa), southwestern Quebec, Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts; casually to New Hampshire (Warren); regularly south to southern Texas (Brownsville, Tivoll), southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi (Gulfport, Saucier), and Florida.
Casual records: Casual in southeastern Quebec (Piashti Bay) and northern Nova Scotia (Cape Breton, Sable Island).
Migration: The following data refer to the species as a whole. Of the 14 races, 5 are migratory, 9 are resident. Many of the migration records are unidentifiable as to race.
Early dates of spring arrival are: Alabama: Scottsboro, February 18. Georgia: Macon, March 9. South Carolina: Waihalla, March 12. North Carolina: North Wilkesboro, February 26. Virginia: Blacksburg, February 9. West Virginia: Bluefield, February 13. District of Columbia: January 23 (average of 29 years, March 1). Maryland: Laurel, February 5 (median of 7 years, February 21). Pennsylvania: Berwyn, February 3. New Jersey: Cape May, February 9. New York: Branchport and Shelter Island, February 17. Connecticut: New Haven, February 10. Rhode Island: Block Island, February 7. Massachusetts: Harvard, February 22 (average of 7 years, March 11). Vermont: Putney, February 24. New Hampshire: Hollis, March 3. Maine: Lewiston, ~vIarch 7. Quebec: Kamouraska, March 8 (median of 14 years, April 7); Montreal, March 9. New Brunswick: Summerville, March 23. Nova Scotia: Halif ax, April 9. Prince Edward Island: Alberton, March 30 (median of 9 years, April 11). Tennessee: Nashville, February 10; Athens, February 12 (average of 7 years, March 1). Kentucky: Guthrie, February 10. Missouri: Charleston and Warrensburg, February 8. Illinois: Chicago region, February 19 (average, March 10). Indiana: Waterloo, February 14 (average of 19 years, March 1). Ohio: Buckeye Lake, February 4 (median, February 23). Michigan: Washtenaw County, February 12; Blaney Park, March 15. Ontario: London, February 18 (average of 12 years, March 17); Ottawa, March 15 (average of 30 years, April 2). Iowa: Iowa City, February 17. Wisconsin: Dane County, February 21. Minnesota: Northfield, February 21 (average of 28 years for southern Minnesota, March 14); Steams County, March 13 (average of 15 years for northern Minnesota, March 20). Texas: Wichita Falls, February 15. Oklahoma: Caddo, January 22. Kansas: Harper, January 28. Nebraska: Lincoln, February 1; Red Cloud, February 5 (median of 23 years, March 7). South Dakota: Yankton, February 21; Sioux Falls, March 6 (average of 7 years, March 14). North Dakota: Cass County, March 6 (average, March 19); McKenzie County, March 31 (average of 10 years, April 14). Manitoba: Killarney, March 22; Treesbank, March 23 (average, April 9). Saskatchewan: Sovereign, March 12; Wiseton, March 25. Mackenzie: Fort Simpson, April 28. New Mexico: Clayton, February 14. Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park, February 19. Colorado: Durango, February 6. Utah: Bear River Refuge, Brigham City, February 10. Wyoming: Careyhurst, February 9. Idaho: Rathdrum, February 12 (average of 9 years, March 2). Montana: Charlo, February 10; Fortine, February 13. Alberta: Belvedere, March 18. California: Berkeley, February 3. Oregon: Klamath Basin, February 8. Washington: Camas, February 1; Spokane, February 4. British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, February 12.
Late dates of spring departure are: El Salvador: Lake Olomega, April 6. Sonora: Tesia, April 5. Baja California: San Jose del Cabo, April 5. District of Columbia: May 18. Maryland: Laurel, May 18 (median of 6 years, May 6). New York: New York City, May 15. Massachusetts: Essex County, May 20. Mississippi: Gulfport, April 4. Ohio: Buckeye Lake, median, April 15. New Mexico: Apache, April 27. Arizona: Tucson, May 19. Califorrna: Cixna, May 12 .
Early dates of fall arrival are: California: Lathrop, October 3. Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park, September 15. New Mexico: Colfax County, August 7. Oklahoma: Caddo, September 10. Texas: El Paso, August 7. Ohio: Buckeye Lake, median, September 15. Massachusetts: Springfield, July 5. Maryland: Baltimore County, July 11. District of Columbia: July 8. Baja California: San Jose del Cabo, August 28. Sonora: Hermosillo, October 22. Chihuahua: Chihuahua, November 6.
Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia: Okanagan Lake, November 22. Washington: Yakima Indian Reservation, November 7. Oregon: Prospect, October31. California: Lafayette November, 26. Alberta: Whitford Lake, October 29; Belvedere, October 27. Montana: Kirby, December 1. Wyoming: Larainie, December 9; Yellowstone Park, November 2. Utah: Ogden Valley, December 4. Colorado: Rainab, December 6. Saskatchewan: South Qu’Appelle, December 1. Manitoba: Treesbank, November22 (average, October 24). North Dakota: Argusville, November 20. South Dakota: Mellette, December 22; Sioux Falls, November 15 (average of 6 years, November 8). Nebraska: Cortland, November 30. Kansas: Onaga, November 29. Texas: Dallas, November 28. Minnesota: Minneapolis, December 16 (average of 12 years for southern Minnesota, November 15); Elk River, November 14 (average of 17 years for northern Minnesota, October 28). Wisconsin: Beloit, December 11. Iowa: Winthrop, December 11. Ontario: Point Pelee, December 10; Ottawa, November 10 (average of 20 years, October 18). Michigan: Mount Clemens, December 14; McMillan, December 6. Ohio: Toledo, December 26; Buckeye Lake, November 24 (median, November 20). Indiana: Hobart, December 19: Bicknell and Carlisle, December 11. Illinois: Murphysboro, December 12; Chicago, December 5 (average of 16 years, October 16). Missouri: Palmyra, November 22. Kentucky: Lebanon, November 10. Tennessee: Nashville, November 30. Prince Edward Island: Alberton, October 1 (median of 5 years, September 29). New Brunswick: Memramcook, October 22. Quebec: Montreal, November 14, (average of 9 years, October 23). Maine: Lewiston, November 28; Hudson, November 15. New Hampshire: Hanover, October 24. Vermont: Shelburne, November 22. Massachusetts: Harvard, November 26 (average of 8 years, October 20). Rhode Island: Block Island, December 4. Connecticut: New Haven, December 7. New York: New York City, December 7; Watertown, December 6. New Jersey: Elizabeth, December 10. Pennsylvania: Warren, November 28. Maryland: Laurel, December 15 (median of 4 years, November 25). District of Columbia: average of 6 years, November 19. West Virginia: Bluefield, December 26. Virginia: Blacksburg, December 14. Nortb Carolina: Raleigh, December 3. Georgia: Americus, November 13 .
Egg dates: -Alberta: 30 records, May 28 to July 5; 15 records, June 1 to June 9.
Arizona: 27 records, April 4 to June 25: 14 records, May 18 to June 4.
California: 360 records, March 26 to June 26; 180 records, May 1 to May 31.
Florida: 47 records, April 15 to June 29; 24 records, May 16 to May 20.
Illinois: 74 records, May 10 to June 14; 38 records, May 22 to May 31.
Massachusetts: 103 records, May 16 to June 21; 80 records, May 27 to June 6.
New Jersey: 24 records, May 13 to June 22; 12 records, May 19 to May 31.
North Dakota: 32 records, June 2 to July 5; 20 records, June 6 to June 9.
Oregon: 24 records, May ito June 6; 14 records, May 14 to May 18. Texas: 44 records, May 1 to July 5; 25 records, May 15 to June 5.
Washington: 12 records, April 8 to June 21; 6 records, April 26 to May 18.
Wyoming: 16 records, April 20 to June 9; 11 records, April 20 to April 27 (Harris).
FLORIDA REDWING 151
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS MEARNSI Howell and van Rossem
Some confusion has existed in the past and some differences of opinion have been expressed as to the proper nomenclature to be applied to the redwings of the eastern United States and as to the distribution of the subspecies. This need not be discussed here, as it is fully explained in a study of the redwings of the southeastern United States by Arthur H. Howell and Adriaan J. van Rossem (1928). They demonstrate that the old name for the Florida redwing, A. p. fioridanus, should be restricted to the birds of extreme southern Florida, that the eastern redwing (A. p. phoeniceus) breeds as far south as Gainesville in northern Florida, and they propose the above scientific name for the redwings that breed over the greater part of the Florida peninsula.
In describing this new race, named in honor of Edgar A. Mearns, they assign to it the following subspecific characters:
Compared with phoeniceus: Size smaller; bill longer and more slender, both actually and relatively; coloration of upper parts in females more brownish (less blackish); under parts more huffy (less whitish), the dark streaks more brownish. * * * In the present race, the maximum brownish suffusion found in Agelaius phoeniceus is attained; this character at once distinguishes mearnsi from all the other races occupying t.he Caribbean area (bryanti, floridanu8, littoralis, megapotamus, and richmondi).
Specimens from the Gulf Coast of Florida, particularly from the northern portion, have somewhat thicker bills than those from central and eastern Florida, thus indicating a gradual approach in this character to littoralis of the western Gulf Coast. Specimens from the Caloosahatchee Valley, (Alva and Ft. Myers) show approach in paler coloration to floridenus, of south Florida .
Breeding material is lacking from the lower St. Johns Valley, hence the area of intergradation with phoeniceus is not definitely known: quite probably this race will be found to range northward nearly or quite to Jacksonville.
They give the range of mearnsi as the “greater part of the Florida peninsula, south to the lower Kissimmee Valley and the Caloosahatchee River; north at least to Putnam County (San Mateo) and Anastasia Island; west on the Gulf coast to Apalachicola.”
All through such parts of central Florida, within the limits named above, as I have visited, and these include most of the State, we have always found this redwing to be an abundant resident bird in all suitable places: around ponds, marshes, sawgrass sloughs, wet places in the flat pine woods, or open grassy savannas where there is sufficient moisture. During the two winters that I spent at Pass-a-Grille, Pinellas County, it was a common dooryard bird. A. H. Howell (1932) says: “The Everglades, before drainage operations were begun, supported an immense population, and even now, with large areas drained and under cultivation, the birds breed there abundantly, as also on the extensive marshes bordering the upper St. Johns and Kissimmee Rivers.
Nesting: Howell (1932) says: “A number of pairs ale usually found nesting near together, their nests being placed in small bushes growing in shallow water or on marshes at a height of 1 to 8 feet above the water or ground. The nests are compactly woven of the stems of saw grass or similar materials and firmly bound to the bush in which they are placed.”
Donald J. Nicholson, of Orlando, Flu., has sent me three sets of eggs of the Florida redwing, and tells me that eggs can be found in his vicinity from the last week in March until late in July. The sets all consisted of three eggs each. One of the nests was 3 feet up in a buttonwood growing in a pond; another was similarly located, 2h feet up, in one of several buttonwoods on swampy land among bunchgrass and sawgrass; the third was attached to the stems of a watermyrtle, 4 feet from the ground, near a pond. Another set in my collection was taken in Nassau County by W. W. Worthington; the nest was suspended 3 feet up among grass in a salt marsh, and held four eggs. There is a set in the T. E. McMullen collection that was taken from a nest in a grass field on a farm. While I was hunting for gallinules’ nests in a deep-water pond near Zephyrhills with Oscar Baynard, we found two redwings’ nests in ty-ty bushes, not far above the water; the water was so deep that we had to use a boat; there was a broad border of pickerel weed all around the pond, with boggy, or floating islands of flags, Sagittaria, small willows, and ty-ty bushes scattered over it, and with bonnets and white pond lilies in the deeper parts.
Eggs: Three eggs seems to form the usual set for the Florida redwing, but four eggs are not unusual. They are apparently similar to the eggs of the species elsewhere, except for size. The measurements of 50 eggs of the five southern races of this species average 23.5 by 17.1 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 27.7 by 17.3, 23.4 by 18.8, 21.3 by 16.8, and 21.8 by 15.5 millimeters.
Howell’s (1932) account of the food of the Florida redwing was evidently taken from Beal’s (1900) bulletin on the food of this species, as quoted from under the eastern redwing; but Beal distinctly said that the different subspecies were not considered separately.
Philip A. Du Mont (1931), in his paper on the birds of Pinellas County, says of the status of this race in that region: “A few are permanent residents. The bulk of the breeding birds winter farther south and arrive in Pinellas County about the middle of April. I found this species abundant in Collier County in January.* * *
The song of this bird seems to differ consistently from that of the eastern bird. An extra descending note is added at the end which makes the song of the Florida bird eortlc-a-ree-a. This was called to my attention first by the late Maunsell S. Crosby.”
Holt and Sutton (1926) observe: “The Florida Red-wings are much more graceful than the northern birds. Often they were seen swinging and climbing about the willow or bay-berry bushes, like Baltimore Orioles searching for insects.”
Range: The Florida redwing is resident from northern Florida, except in the extreme north-central section (Apalachicola, Cedar Keys), and extreme southeastern Georgia (Okefenokee Swamp, Saint Marys); south to south-central Florida (Fort Myers, Jupiter).
Winter Range: In winter wandering to southwestern Georgia (Grady County).
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS FLORIDANUS Maynard
This form of redwing is resident in the extreme lower part of the Florida mainland and the Florida Keys, north to Lake Worth on the east coast, and the town of Everglade in Collier County on the west, including tropical Florida and much of the everglades. This bird was considered at one time to be the Bahama redwing, A. p. bryanti, but it has been shown to be a distinct race worthy of recognition under the name given to it by Maynard .
He (1896) gives it the following subspecific characters: “Form and general coloration similar to that of the Red-wing but smaller, with the plumage more velvety black, and the buff edging to the scarlet shoulder, deeper. The bill is a little longer and much more slender.”
Of its nest, Maynard (1896) writes:
The wide-spread marshes of the everglades of Florida are covered with a luxuriant growth of tall grass which attains to the height of five or even six feet. These vast plains form the homes of hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds and there they also breed. As the grass is submerged in at least a foot of water in the spring, the Blackbirds are obliged to suspend their nests near the top of the stout stalks, of which they bring several together weaving the leaves in the nests and around them in order to make them secure. The everglades are seldom free from wind which often blows a gale, waving the grass back and forth furiously, so that the birds are forced to build exceedingly compact structures or they would be blown to pieces. The nests are therefore made of the leaves of the coarse saw grass which abounds, neatly and firmly woven together. The swaying motion to which their domiciles are constantly subjected, has a tendency to throw the eggs out, and would, were it not that the birds who have doubtless been taught by the experience of former generations, build their nests very deep and, not content with this, they make them more secure by contracting the entrance so much that it is impossible for the eggs to fall out, even when the grass bends so that the tops touch the water.* * *
May first of that seine season found me standing on one of the small outer keys, about a hundred miles south of the point last described. This islet, like many others, contained a small lagoon in the center, around which was a belt of land that supported a number of trees, mainly the kinds known as Buttonwood and Mangrove. There were a large number of Red-winged Blackbirds breeding on this Key but I was puzzled to find the nests, for I could not see them in the trees and there were no bushes or grass. Mter watching them attentively for a few moments, I saw a female emerge from a small hole in a Buttonwood tree not far from the ground, and climbing up to it discovered the nest which was built like that of a Blue Bird. I afterward found several in similar places all containing eggs. For a time I could not understand why the birds bad chosen these novel situations for homes, but the ha-he of a passing group of Fish Crows helped to enlighten me, for I knew that the predatory habits of this latter named species renders the eggs of all birds unsafe if exposed, unless the owners are sufficiently strong to protect them, and what the Red-wings lacked in strength they made up in cunning, as they placed their treasures where it was impossible for their enemies to get at them.
Howell (1932) says: “In the Everglades near Royal Palm Hammock, June 12, 1918, I found nests with eggs and young in a saw-grass marsh and in low bushes.” Earle R. Greene (1946) found a nest, with one egg on July 24, 1942, on Boca Chica Key, that was 6 feet up in a mangrove bush.
Maynard’s redwing is resident in southern Florida (Everglades, Miami, Key West).
Gulf Coast Redwing
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS LITTORALIS Howell and van Rossem
A. H. Howell and A. J. van Rossem (1928) have given the above names to the redwings that are resident along the Gulf coast region, from Choctawhatchee Bay, in northwestern Florida, westward along the coast at least to Galveston, Tex. Following is their description of it:
Compared with Agelaius phoeniceus phoeniceus of northeastern United States: Coloration of females darker, both above and bejow, particularly on the rump; general tone of upper parts in breeding plumage fuscous-black, with median crown stripe and buffy edgings on nape and interscapular region nearly obsolete; ground color of under parts less huffy (more whitish), the dark streaks broader and averaging more blackish; wing and tail slightly shorter; bill slightly more slender in lateral profile. Compared with A. p. mearn Si: Coloration of females throughout very much more blackish (less brownish), the brown and buff edgings to the feathers of the head, nape, interseapular region, and wings very much reduced; streaks on under parts decidedly more blackish, the ground color less huffy (more whitish); bill shorter, and thicker at base; wing averaging slightly longer.
This subspecies, the darkest of all the eastern races, apparently ranges little, if any, above the tidewater region. It appears to be more closely related to phoeniceus than to mearnsi or megapotamue, but material is lacking to show with certainty the area of intergradation with any of these races.”
Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1938) calls this redwing “an abundant permanent resident in southern Louisiana. * * * Throughout all the marshes in the Gulf Coast region in the southwestern part of the State, even in the winter, it is one of the most abundant birds.”
Nesting: In May and June 1910, I spent about a month cruising with Warden Sprinkle among the islands off the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi, mainly in the Breton Island Reservation. On all the islands that we inspected, wherever there was a little moisture and suitable vegetation, we found redwings common and in some places abundant. Their favorite nesting sites were in the black mangrove bushes; the nests were placed 3 or 4 feet above the ground, and usually held three eggs.
Francis M. Weston has sent me some notes on the Gulf coast redwing, as observed in the region of Pensacola Bay, Fla. He says that the nests “are usually built in clumps of the needle rush (Juncu8 roemerianus) and in the scattered bushes and low trees that grow in or adjacent to the areas covered by this rush.”
Young: Weston relates the following experience: “A young bird, barely able to fly, fluttered out of the march at my feet and headed out across a large salt-water pond. I saw at once that it could not possibly reach the far shore. As a matter of fact, it fell into the water before it had gone 20 feet. Immediately, it turned back toward the shore it had just left and, disregarding my presence (although my approach had been the occasion of its flight), fluttered to safety along the surface of the water. It seemed to travel in a sitting posture on the water with the forward part of the body held high and the wings beating the surface without seeming to submerge. When it regained the shore at my feet, it was not bedraggled: appeared to be perfectly dry: and seemed none the worse for its experience.”
Fall: Weston writes in his notes: “By the end of October, the redwings resort to the high lands in large flocks during the day, although they always return to the marshes in the late afternoon to pass the night. At this season, too, they can often be found among the sand dunes along the Gulf beaches, where they feed on the seeds of the sea oats (Uniola panieulata): the birds perch on the swaying stalks and pick the seeds from the ripened ‘heads.’ Their fondness for the seeds of the long-leaf yellow pine (Pin its palu.stris) seems not to be generally known. My notes for October 31, 1943, recount my discovery of this preference:
“I have often noticed flocks of redwings in the pine woods in fall but not until today have I been able to get near enough to find what the attraction was. Today, I succeeded in driving my car almost under a pine tree in which a flock of about a hundred birds was very active. Certainly, the birds were eating the pine seeds, though I could not see just how they extracted them from the cones: seed ‘wings’ were raining down around and upon the car as long as the birds were in the tree.”
Range: The Gulf coast redwing is resident in southeastern Texas (Brenham, Galveston); southern Louisiana (north, at least, to Crowley, Clinton), central western and southern Mississippi (Saucier, Vicksburg), southern Alabama (Mobile), and northwestern Florida (Pensacola Bay, Whitfield).
Casual records: Casual farther west in Texas (Tivoli, Eagle Lake).
RIO GRANDE REDWING
Rio Grande Redwing
AGELAJUS PHOENICEUS MEGAPOTAMUS Oberholser
Oberholser (1919a) describes this redwing as “similar to Agelaius phoeniceus richmondi from southern Vera Cruz and Tabasco, Mexico, but larger; female more grayish above and less ochraceus below.” He gives as its distribution: central southern Texas and northeastern Mexico. Breeds north to central Texas; west to eastern Coahuila; south to Nuevo Leon and northern Vera Cruz; and east to Tamaulipas and the Brazos River in Texas.
** * This new subspecies differs from Aaelaius phoeniceus phoeniceus in somewhat longer wing, rather shorter bill, and much lighter coloration of the female; from Agelajue phoeniceus sonoriensis and Agelajus phoeniceus fortis in very much smaller size; and from Ageiaiu.s phoeniceus neutralis in greatly inferior size and paler female. Birds belonging to this geographic race have hitherto been referred to Agela ins phoeniceus richmondi, hut they are so different from typical representatives of the latter that subspeeific separation seems desirable. It is a larger and less brownish edition of Agelajus phoeniceus richmondi, and replaces that form in Texas, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon. It seems to be more or less permanently resident, as no specimens have been taken outside of its breeding range.
Southward it passes into Agelajus phoeniceus richmondi somewhere in the northern part of the State of Vera Cruz; westward through central western Texas into Agekijus phoeniceus neutralis; northward in central northern Texas into Agelajus phoeniceus predatorius; and along the coast of southeastern Texas beyond the Brazos River into Ageleius phoeniceus phoeniceus of the southeastern United States.
In considering Oberholser’s names, as used above, allowance must be made for some changes that have been made since his paper was written.
Nesting: Although he did not recognize it as a subspecies, George B. Sennett (1878) was the first to give any information on the nesting habits of this blackbird in the vicinity of Brownsville, Tex.; he writes; “I found this species breeding in great numbers along the Lower Rio Grande. They usually build their nests low, among the rank growth of weeds and willows that spring up in the resaca beds after the annual overflows of the river. One nest, however, I found at least 20 feet high in a mesquite-tree. It was composed of bleached grasses and attached to a leaning branch; it was partly pensile, and looked like a large nest of the Orchard Oriole, Ictemts spun us. I was deceived into climbing for it.”
On May 23, 1923, near Brownsville, I found a number of nests of the Rio Grande redwing, containing from three to four eggs, placed from 3 to 10 feet above the ground in some slender willows growing along the edge of a pond .
Referring to the same general locality, Herbert Friedmann (1925) says: “Some 15 nests were examined and all were in bushes or trees in dry locations and varied from within five feet of the ground to over 20 feet above it. In all his years of field work in this region Camp has never found a Red-wing’s nest built over the water.”
George Finlay Simmons (1925), referring to the Austin region, which is probably near the northern limit of the breeding range of this race, says that the nests are placed “1 to 20, usually 6, feet up, firmly woven to limbs and twigs of willow or ligustrum trees or bushes, to cattails, blood-weeds, reeds, rushes, tules, cane or saw-grass; along creeks, sloughs, river margins, draws, edges of pasture ponds, and about artificial lakes.”
Range: The Rio Grande redwing is resident from central Texas (Del Rio, Kerrville, Giddings) south to southeastern Coahuila, Mexico, and northern Vera Cruz.
AGELAXUS PHOENICEUS ARCTOLEGUS Oherholser
Oberholser (1907) characterized this large northern form as “similar to Agelajus phoniceus fortis, but female decidedly darker below, the streaks more blackish and more extensive, about as broad as the white interspaces; above more blackish. Male with wing and tail averaging shorter; bill larger; and buff of wing-coverts somewhat paler. He reported its geographical distribution as “Montana, North Dakota Minnesota, and northern Michigan, north to Keewatin, Athabaska, and Mackenzie; in migration south to Colorado, Texas, Illinois, and probably Ohio,” and says further: “This new form is much like Agelajus phoeniceus phoeniceus in color, the male in this respect being practically indistinguishable, and the female barely less blackish above and below; but in size A. p. arctolegus is much greater, as the subjoined measurements will show. It differs from Agelajus phoeniceus neutralis in larger size; in more blackish upper parts, broader and darker streaks on the lower surface of the female; and paler buff on the shoulder of the male.”
He did not give it the common name “giant,” which does not seem to be warranted, inasmuch as his tables of measurements show that the average measurements of the thick-billed redwing are somewhat greater than those of the present form; it would seem that the name “northern” would be more appropriate. In the same tables, arctolegus seems to have a thicker bill than forti~s, the so-called thick-billed redwing! However, these common names are much more likely to stand the test of time than are the so-called scientific names, which are subject to change at the whim of any “specialist in speciation.” For a thorough study of the status of this subspecies the reader is referred to a very enlightening paper on the subject by P. A. Taverner (1939), which well illustrates the difficulty of recognizing some of these microscopic subspecies when taken away from their breeding. grounds .
The series of redwings that we collected during the breeding season in southwestern Saskatchewan proved very puzzling; they were not quite typical of either Jortis or arctolegus, but the measurements of my birds seem to agree rather closely with those given for the latter, to which form they should probably be referred.
Spring: As the giant redwing cannot be recognized in life, it is almost impossible to trace its migration through the ranges of other forms. Wetmore (1937) reports a specimen taken in Nicholas County, W. Va., as late as May 11, 1936. It probably reaches the southern portions of its breeding range in late February or early in March, in much the same way as the eastern redwing does, the passing flocks coming first and the resident birds later. Ian McT. Cowan (1939) thus describes the arrival in the Peace River district in British Columbia: “When we reached Tupper Creek on May 6 male blackbirds were abundant, seemingly defending territories and in full song. Large flocks of migrating birds composed entirely of males were moving through daily and it was noticed that little mixing took place between the ‘residents’ and the migrants. * * * A very few females were seen on May 9 and subsequently, but not until the 18th did the females start to arrive in numbers. Just after dawn on this date a flock of between twenty and thirty females came down and joined the males.”
Nesting: Although not recognized as such at the time, this was undoubtedly the form of redwing we found nesting so abundantly in North Dakota in all the reedy sloughs. In the large sloughs, where there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nests of yellow-headed blackbirds in the tall reeds in the deeper parts, we found the redwings almost as common, with nests around the edges in the shorter vegetation over shallower water, and in the long grass on the borders.
0. A. Stevens (1925), of Fargo, N. Dak., published a short paper on the redwing population of a ditch that drained the marshes of the Red River of the North, in which cattails and marsh grasses were growing. “The early nests, which include most of them, were built in last year’s cattail stalks, from 1 to 2 feet above the water. On July 13, the new growth of cat-tails had reached its full height and flower stalks were present. The nests containing eggs at that date were new and placed 3 to 4 feet above the water. Of the nests found on June 11, three were lined with a handful of fluff from the last year’s seed-stalks. These were the only such seen. A few nests were in small willow trees.”
He has sent me some notes on the same colony, made the following year: “‘the first birds seen were two males on March 29. On April 26, three females were present and the number of males was increasing rapidly. No signs of nests appeared until May 10 when five had been begun. The first eggs were found May 21 and the first young on June 3. Repeated rains the first of June converted the ditch into a river. Several nests were flooded on the seventh and by the tenth all of the earlier ones were covered. On the latter date ten new nests were found, high up in the small willow trees, except one which was in a last year’s sweet clover plant.”
Approximately 70 nests were in use at the date of flooding. No more nests were built in the cattails until July 19, when two nests with eggs were found. Most of his new nests were built in 4 days and the first egg was laid from 1 to 4 days thereafter; but in one case the birds took 7 days to build the nest and waited another week before laying the first egg.
Geographically, the blackbirds that we found nesting abundantly in southwestern Saskatchewan in 1905 and 1906 are referable to this race, though we doubtfully recorded them at that time as Jortis, as explained earlier in this account. They were very common around the sloughs and along the creeks, nesting in the flags and long grasses on the edges of the sloughs and over the Water in the shallower portions. I collected a nest, containing four fresh eggs, at Crane Lake on June 5,1905; it was placed 10 inches above the water in a bunch of reeds (Scirpus) on the edge of a slough; the nest was well made of dry reeds and was lined with dry grasses .
In the Peace River district of British Columbia, Cowan (1939) found giant redwings breeding rather late in the season. “Egg laying commenced about the end of May at Austin’s Pond where the birds were all building in dead sedges before the new growth was well under way. Many pairs on the shore of Swan Lake did not complete nest building until about June 23. Here the nests were mostly in the dense stands of Equisetum growing in the shallow water and in consequence nest building had to await growth of these early in June.
At Austin’s Pond, he says: “Repeated observation led us to the conclusion that there were but four males with the six females. On one occasion one male was observed to mate with two different females within the space of ten minutes.” He found two males that were breeding in the immature plumage characteristic of the first winter.
Eggs: The giant redwing lays larger sets of eggs than the southern races, from four to six. In a series of 30 sets in the collection of A. D. Henderson, of Belvedere, Alberta, there are 7 sets of five and 2 sets of six. The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the eastern redwing.
Winter: The giant redwing ranges in winter to Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and Illinois, and as a straggler as far east as Connecticut; but many winter farther north .
Roberts (1932) says: “Flocks of Red-wings, often of considerable size, may remain through the winter in southern Minnesota, feeding in weed-grown corn-fields, around barns and strawstacks and open springy marshes and brooks, and spending the nights in the sheltered lowlands.” Stragglers are often found even farther north, enduring temperatures below zero.
This redwing seems to be a common, and perhaps an abundant, winter resident in Ohio. Milton B. Trautman (1940) estimated that about 20 percent of the redwings migrating through or wintering at Buckeye Lake are referable to arctolegus. Louis W. Campbell (1936) writes: “During the past 8 years flocks of from 20 to 300 Red-winged Blackbirds have been found wintering about Toledo. * * * In an effort to determine the composition of these flocks of wintering birds, twenty-three specimens were collected during 1934, 1935, and 1936, between the dates of December 27 and February 29. Twenty-one of these proved referable to Agelajus phoeniceus arcto1egu~s. * * * The earliest spring specimen of Agelaius phoeniceus phoeniceus was taken on March 12, 1933. The evidence thus indicates that the common wintering Red-winged Blackbird of the Toledo region is Agelajus p. arctolegus.”
Range: Yukon and Mackenzie to Louisiana .
Breeding Range: The giant redwing breeds from southeastern Yukon, central Mackenzie (Fort Norman, Fort Simpson), northwestern Saskatchewan, north-central Manitoba (The Pas, Oxford House), and western and northeastern Ontario (Lake Attawapiskat, Moose Factory); south to central British Columbia (Williams Lake, Tachick Lake), southwestern Alberta (Waterton Lakes Park, Milk River), eastern Montana (Powder River County), southern South Dakota (Menno, Vermillion), and Iowa (east to Tama and Van Buren Counties).
Winter Range: Winters casually north to southern British Collumbia (Okanagan Landing), southeastern Saskatchewan (Estevan), southern Manitoba (Brandon), northern and central Minnesota (Hennepin County), northeastern flhinois (Waukegan), southeastern Michigan (Erie), southern Ontario (Brankford), central Ohio (Licking County) and western West Virginia (Mason County); regularly south to north-central Colorado (Semper), central Texas (Boerne, Edge), and Louisiana (Belcher, Jefferson Parish).
Casual records: Casual in southeastern Alaska (Mole Harbor, Sergief Island), central Yukon (Mayo Landing), west-central British Columbia (Kispiox Valley), northern Manitoba (Churchill), extreme northeastern Ontario (Cape Henrietta Maria), central New York (Cayuga and Tompkins Counties), Connecticut (North Haven), and Georgia (Tifton).
Accidental in northern Alaska (Cape Price of Wales, Barrow) and northern Mackenzie (headwaters of the Dease River) .
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS FORTIS Ridgway
The thick-billed redwing seems to be very closely related to the giant redwing and so much like it in measurements that Ridgway (1902) did not separate the two forms. He called jortis the northern redwing and assigned to it the far northern range of the bird we now call arctolegus. Both of these two forms are about the same size, considerably larger than the eastern redwing, and both have thick bills, as mentioned under the preceeding race.
The thick-billed redwing, as it is now understood, breeds from Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota to Colorado and northern Texas. Its breeding range extends well into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where it has been detected at elevations of 7,500 and 9,000 feet in Colorado.
Young: At an Iowa nest of the redwing, evidently of this race, Dr. Ira N. Gabrielson (1915) made the following observations on the female feeding the young.
Altogether during the 170 feeding visits she brought 203 morsels of food. Of these, grasshoppers were 34.97%, moths 9.37%, larvae 9.35%, unidentified 17.24%, and the remaining 29.09% was composed of various insects. The unidentified were mostly small insects captured among the arrowhead lilies but we could not identify them. A very small frog was fed on one visit. As far as numbers were concerned the distribution of food to the nestlings was very equal, A receiving 34.97% of the insects fed, B, 32.51%, and C, 31.51%. It is not so easy to estimate the percentage by bulk on account of the varying sizes of the insects fed.* * *
The position of the blind and the surrounding vegetation exposed the nest to the sun from 8:30 to 10:10 while it was shaded during the remainder of the day. On July 1, the day on which we watched during this period, she spent 50 minutes or exactly one-half the time in shading the young while not a minute was so spent at any other time of the day. In shading the young she always assumed the same position with her head toward the sun and broadside to the blind. One toot was placed on each side of the nest, the beak held wide open, the wings half spread and slightly drooping, and the feathers of the head and neck elevated. This resulted in entirely shading the young and is the most perfect development of this brooding position yet noticed in an individual bird.
Voice: The song and call notes of the thick-billed redwing are generally considered to be similar to those the eastern redwing, but Francis H. Allen tells me of a song that he heard in Colorado that “ended with a peculiar turn something like con queree-ee-lyoo.”
Enemies: Cowbirds are probably more abundant throughout the range of this redwing than they are in the east, hence this blackbird sometimes is often imposed upon. L. R. Wolfe wrote to Friedmann (1934): “Probably ninety percent of the redwing nests [in Decatur County, Kans.] contained one or more eggs of the cowbird and I remember frequent extended searches to find a nest without eggs of the parasite.”
Winter: While large numbers of thick-billed redwings remain in winter throughout the southern portions of their breeding range, especially in Colorado, there is a heavy southeastward movement in the fall toward their winter quarters in the Southern States, from New Mexico to Louisiana.
Harry Harris (1919) writes of their coming to the region of Kansas City, Mo.: “They began arriving in small numbers about the middle of November and continued coming in increasing numbers until during the intense cold periods of late December and January there were countless thousands resorting to common roosts in the timbered bottoms along the Missouri River. In the early mornings when the birds scattered to feed, great flocks flew over the city to their feeding grounds on the prairie regions many miles to the south and west. It is estimated that some of the flocks covered daily from thirty to fifty miles on these journeys.”
W. E. Lewis (1925) gives the following graphic account of the immense flocks of redwings, with a few Brewer’s blackbirds and cowbirds, as seen flying to and from their winter roosts in Oklahoma:
They could be seen coming for three or four miles, in a column that resembled at that distance the line of smoke given off by a distant locomotive, except that it was constantly writhing and twisting like a sinuous serpent. As the dark band approached, the individual birds could be distinguished. The band was perhaps thirty feet across and there were usually about ten to fifteen birds to the rod of cross section. Sometimes there are fewer than this, but sometimes many more. The column was not continuous. Possibly there would be a mile or two of blackbird ribbon, then a gap of half a mile, then a longer section. On February 13, I saw a practically continuous stream about seven miles long. It is hard to accurately estimate the total number of individuals, but I think thirty thousand would be conservative.
Range: Montana and western Kansas to Louisiana:
Breeding Range: The thick-billed redwing breeds east of the Rockies in western Montana (Teton and Gallatin Counties), western Nebraska, and western Kansas (Decatur County); south through southeastern Idaho (Bear Lake County), central and central-eastern Utah (Salt Lake City, Spanish Fork, Moab), and Colorado to southwestern Utah (Pinto, Saint George), southern Nevada (intermediate toward onoriensis), central and central-eastern Arizona (San Francisco Mountains, MeNary), central and southeastern New Mexico (Fort Wingate, Carlsbad), and (probably) northern and western Texas (Boise, Canadian, Ysleta).
Winter Range: Winters from northern Utah (Morgan County), Colorado (Barr, Colorado Springs), and eastern Nebraska (Lincoln); south to western and central Texas (El Paso, Hot Springs, Eagle Lake); casually east to Arkansas (Fayetteville, Arkansas County), Tennessee (Reelfoot Lake), Mississippi (Rosedale), and Louisiana (Beleher).
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS NEVADENSIS Grinnell
This Great Basin redwing breeds from southeastern British Columbia and northern Idaho, through much of northeastern California and southward on the east side of the Sierra Nevada to San Bernardino County, and through Nevada to eastern Arizona, New Mexico, and western Texas.
A. J. van Rossem (1926) in his study of the California races gives this form the following diagnosis: “Bill stouter than in caurinus or sonoriensis, but still decidedly more slender than in neutralis. Males with exposed portions of middle wing coverts usually clear buff, but frequently with a small amount of black present, and occasionally with the exposed black even predominant over the buff. Females decidedly less bulky than caurinus and with darker and broader ventral streaking than in sonoriensis. Not always distinguishable from neutralis in coloration, but streaking below averaging narrower and sharper, and bill diagnostic if similar ages are compared.”
His seems more comprehensive and clearer than the original description by Grinnell (1914a) which follows: “In shape of bill and other general characters closely similar to A. p. sonoriensis; male scarcely distinguishable, but female conspicuously darker colored, on account of the great relative breadth of black streaking both above and below; in this respect similar to female of A. p. caurinus, but bright rusty edging on back and wings replaced by ashy and pale ochraceous; bill in male of caurinus more slender than in either sononensis or nevadenses.”
Spring: Claude T. Barnes has sent me the following account of the spring behavior of the redwing: “During the spring of 1942 I frequently visited Farmington bay, Utah, for the purpose of recording migration dates, especially those of the Nevada redwing (Agelajus phoeniceus nevadensis). Despite the severe cold winter and stormy late spring, the male redwings appeared on the creek-willows on February 20. They sang perfunctorily, and, while sitting, none showed their red epaulets. Day after day there was little change in the male flock, except that it grew more vociferous, on March 19, for instance, the male chorus being very pronounced, with much clucking as well as song. Still only the yellowish crescent showed on the wing.
“For the next few days the male flock was dispersing, each male selecting his favorite locale, a brook-footed post here, a marsh fence there, or a reeded patch where slow water ran, always apparently a spot where fresh water was near and perches such as willows and wires either existing or in the making, such as ungrown rushes.
“And then, on March 23, a flock of 30 drab little females appeared on the scene, staring curiously about the fen from fence wires and manifesting no interest in the scattered males, who, indeed, reciprocated their indifference. A male atop a fence post beside them treated them as harmless strangers. When the females flew it was in a flock together.
“On April 9 the yellow-headed blackbirds appeared; but the redwings were still in status quo: female flock, isolated males.
“On April 13 the male’s epaulets showed brilliant red in sitting posture; and for the first time the female flock began to disperse. Males began chasing females, and by April 25 no sign of a female assemblage remained. Jean M. Linsdale (1938) made the following interesting observation on the nests:
A feature of the nests of red-winged blackbirds of special interest was noticed in Smoky Valley. This is that the lining in nearly every instance was pale yellow or whitish in color. This contrasted especially with the almost invariably dark color of the lining of the nest of the Brewer blackbird. In these two species as in others which had light or dark colored nest linings, the whitish lined nests were in open situations often exposed to the sunlight, the dark lined nests were in shaded places usually protected from direct sunlight. This contrast extended also to the color of the down on nestlings. Nestling red-wings had conspicuously whitish down, nestling Brewer blackbirds were decidedly blackish. These seem fairly obvious examples of adaptions to exposure to sunshine: the whitish nests and young to reflect sunrays, the dark ones to absorb them. Apparently it is desirable for both the eggs and young birds to be thus protected.
Nesting: In general the nesting habits of the Nevada redwing do not differ materially from those of other races of the species, the nests being placed low down in tufts of grass, in marsh vegetation, in various shrubs near water, or as high as 5 or 10 feet from the ground in willows. Robert Ridgway (1S89) “found a colony which had built their nests in ‘sage bushes’ (Artemisia trideniata) growing in and about a shallow alkaline pond, on Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake.” J. S. Rowley has sent me the following account of an especially dense colony in an isolated locality: “I found an old reservoir on the desert between Mojave, Kern County, and Little Lake, Inyo County, Calif., on a deserted farm. Since there was no surface water for miles around, these redwings had taken this place over. The tule patch was only about 50 feet square and there must have been at least 200 nests occupied there on April 19, 1934. I had to use great care in going though the tules so as not to trample redwing nests.”
Eggs: The Nevada redwing ordinarily lays four or five eggs, probably more often four than five. These are indistinguishable from eggs of adjacent races.
Food: E. R. Kalmbach (1914) gives this redwing credit for eating large numbers of alfalfa weevils in Utah. “Of 42 birds examined, only 2 had failed to eat at least a trace of the weevil, and it was taken on an average of 5.24 adults and 27.16 larvae per bird. In bulk it amounted to 40.76 percent of the stomach contents.”
George F. Knowlton (1944) says that a redwing, probably of this race, “was collected in an alfalfa field southeast of St. George, Utah. Microscopic examination of its stomach contents revealed that it contained a great mass of pea aphids (Macrosiphum pisi) estimated to exceed 1,400 individuals. The pea aphid population in this field was high enough to cause moderate crop injury. A second male red-wing was collected approximately one-half mile away along an alfalfa-field fence line and near to sugar-beets. This stomach contained 85 pea aphids; one of four additional aphids it contained was a green peach aphid (Myzus persicae), a species that causes some damage to nearby sugar-beets intended for seed production.”
Behavior: Walter P. Taylor (1912) writes of the behavior of this redwing with relation to other species:
On more than one occasion was the belligerent disposition of this blackbird in evidence. Flocks of four to eight individuals were frequently seen pursuing some distressed raven; they swooped at the fleeing bird with every appearance of intent to do bodily harm, but I was not able to observe that they did actually strike the fugitive. Individuals do not seem to be particularly timid about attacking a raven, even when no other redwings are about. Magpies come in for a share of abuse. Apparently redwings do not confine their attacks to birds of their own size or larger, for one was observed driving a Savannah Sparrow from a grass stem. Upon the flight of the sparrow, the blackbird settled down on the vacated perch.
Linsdale (1938) noted considerable evidence of polygamy: “Just as in the yellow-headed blackbird a great disproportion was noted in the numbers of males and females at each nesting colony. This was not always apparent upon casual watching, but close study revealed it to be the condition practically everywhere. At 1 or 2 places where there was only a single nest there was 1 male, and 1 female, but usually there were several females and several nests for each male in the colony. Once on May 14, 1932, 1 such group composed of 1 male and 6 females flew up from a marsh in Smoky Valley and lit on a buffaloberry bush.”
Range: British Columbia to Nevada and Arizona.
Breeding Range: The Nevada redwing breeds from central southern and southeastern British Columbia (Kamloops, Newgate) south through central Washington (Conconully, North Dalles), northern Idaho (Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston), west-central Oregon (Gateway, Prospect), and central-northern and eastern California (Seiad Valley, Yosemite, Little Lake) to central-southern California (Victorville; Death Valley) and southern Nevada (Ash Meadows).
Winter Range: Winters north to south-central British Columbia and northern Idaho; south to western and southern California (Palo Alto, Oro Grande) and southern Arizona (Lochiel).
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS CAURINUS Ridgway
Ridgway (1902) describes this redwing of the humid northwest coast as “similar to A. p. phoeniceus but wing and bill longer, the latter more slender; adult male with buff of middle wing-coverts deeper (deep ochraceous-buff or ochraceous in winter plumage); adult female rather more heavily streaked with black below and, in winter plumage, with upper parts much more conspicuously marked with rusty.”
Comparing it with other California races, A. J. van Rossem (1926) gives it the following diagnosis: “Bill longer and more slender than in nevadensis or sonorensis, and slightly different from either race in shape. Adult males with middle wing coverts clear buff, unmarked with black except in examples from northwestern California and southwestern Oregon, where intergradation with mailliardorum has left its impress. Females richly marked in strongly contrasting colors, the plumage being suffused with buff and the feathers edged with rich browns and buffs at the expense of gray tones; the scattered feather edgings of the interseapular region usually light, contrasting strongly with the rest of the plumage.”
The northwestern redwing, which seems to be nowhere especially abundant, is mainly migratory, though a few spend the winter as far north as western Washington. Its summer range extends from southwestern British Columbia to northwestern California, at least to Humboldt Bay. Van Rossem (1926) says that it “winters much farther south than is generally supposed. It is of common occurrence in the San Francisco Bay district * * * and in the San Joaquin Valley.”
I cannot find that it differs materially in its habits from the other California races.
The range of the northwestern redwing lies west of the Coast Ranges from British Columbia to California. It breeds along the coast from southwestern British Columbia (Courtenay, Abbotsford) to northwestern California (Eureka, Requa), and in land along the lower Trinity River in California. It winters throughout its range and south to central-western California (Palo Alto) and the Great Valley of California (Gray Lodge State Game Refuge, Buena Vista Lake). It is accidental in northern Sonora (Sonoyta).
San Francisco Redwing
AGELAJUS PHOENICEUS MAILLIARDORUM van Rossem
This local race is evidently a bicolored redwinged blackbird, recently separated from the more widely spread A. p. californicus, the coastal representative of that subspecies, once regarded as a species.
In naming it, A. J. van Rossem (1926) describes it as “similar to Agelajus phoeniceus califorrticus, but bill smaller and less swollen at base. Females with wing averaging slightly longer, coloration darker and posterior underparts rarely streaked. Males with exposed portions of middle wing coverts usually entirely black.” He gives the range as: “Central coast region of California from central Monterey County north at least to Sherwood, Mendocino County; east to include Suisun Bay and the western slopes of the inner coast ranges.” And he adds: Mailliardorum is the darkest of the races of Agelajus phoeniceus found in the United States and probably represents in the least diluted form the formerly widespread stock which has so plainly left its mark throughout the west on the invading ‘phoeniceus’ strain. Females of the streaked type occur rarely. In San Benito County there is, as would be expected, a tendency toward streaking which reflects the proximity of californicus; and in Mendocino County, where an approach to caurinus takes place, the same condition is observed. These streaked females are darker than the corresponding type of californicus, and they are of coarse distinguishable by smaller bill.”
This race apparently does not differ at all in its habits from the closely related bicolored redwing, its nearest neighbor.
The San Francisco redwing is resident in central coastal California (Sherwood, Lower Lake) south to Carmel River, Soledad, and Paicines.
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS CALIFORNICUS Nelson
The history of the above name is interesting. We older naturalists can remember when there were only three kinds of red-winged blackbirds, all full species, recognized in North America. These were the red-and-buff-shouldered blackbird (Agelajus phoeniceus) in the east, the red-and-white-shouldered blackbird (Agelajus tricolor) in California, and the red-and-black-shouldered blackbird (Agelajus gubernator) in California and Mexico. Audubon (1842) figured these three species and used the above three names, which survived for half a century, in the 1886 and 1895 A.O.U. Check-Lists.
Agelajus gubernator is a Mexican species, and it was not long after the publication of the 1895 Check-List that E. W. Nelson (1897) discovered, in comparing specimens of this species from the tablelands of Mexico with those from California, that “certain differences are found which warrant the naming of a geographical race. As A. gubernator was described from the tablelands of Mexico it follows that the California bird is the new one.
“The breeding females of typical gubernator from the plains of Puebla lack nearly all of the light streaking on the entire upper surface, including the wings, and the light streaks are less marked on the lower surface.
“Among other differences from true gubernator are the notably smaller size and slenderer bills of the northern birds.”
He proposed calling the California bird Agelajus gubernator californicus, and this name was adopted in the 1910 Check-List.
The discussion that followed, as to whether gubernator was specifically distinct from ~phoeniceus, at least as shown in the California races, finally led to another change in the name, for which Joseph Mailliard (1910) was mainly responsible. In his long and exhaustive study of large series of specimens of the California races, he seems to have demonstrated satisfactorily that the gubernator and phoeniceus types are connected by every degree of intergradation, and are therefore not specifically distinct; he proposed to call the California bird the bicolored redwing, and this name was officially adopted in the 1931 Check-List, making the bicolored redwing a subspecies of Agelajus phoeniceus. For the steps which led to this conclusion, the reader is referred to Mr. Mailliard’s illustrated paper.
For comparison with other California races, A. J. van Rossem (1926) gives the following diagnosis for A. p. californicus:
Bill similar in shape and size to Agelajus phoeniceus iseutralis, but males with exposed portions of middle wing coverts more extensively black, rarely clear buff, sometimes entirely black, but usually with a small amount of buff visible, particularly on distal middle coverts. Females averaging much darker throughout and less streaked (more blackish) below. Differs from Ageta jus phoeniceua mcilliardorum in much heavier bill in both sexes. Males with longer tails, and with middle wing coverts less frequently entirely black. Females with slightly shorter wings, under parts usually more streaked, and coloration paler throughout.* * *
Range: Tejon Pass, in extreme northwestern Los Angeles County, north through the San Joaquin-Sacramento Valley to about 4 miles south of Red Bluff, Tehama County, Calif. East in suitable localities into the Sierra Nevada foothills; west to the eastern slopes of the inner coast ranges and to, but not including Suisun Bay.
The specimen figured by Audubon (1842) was supposed to have been taken on the Columbia River, but this is far beyond its present known range; if the locality is correctly given, it must have been a straggler.
Courtship: Grinnell and Storer (1924) describe the courtship performance as differing only slightly from that described for the eastern redwing:
As soon as the flocks begin to break up, the males commence courting and their displays are carried on with little cessation from daylight to dark throughout the nesting season. For this they seek some open situation, never far from the favorite swampy haunts. The male lowers and opens his tail in wide fan shape, spreads and droops his wings until the tips reach to or below his feet, raises his red wing patches outward and forward like a pair of flaming brands, and having swelled out as large as possible, utters his curious throaty song, ton g-leur-lee. Usually this is done while he is perched; less often he mounts into the air and flies slowly over a circling course without departing far from the object of his attention.
Nesting: Of the nesting sites chosen by the bicolored blackbird in the Fresno district, John G. Tyler (1913) writes:
Almost every clump of tules in the various sinks and ponds is made use of by nesting blackbirds, while in many instances a colony will take possession of a grain field, building their light, basket like structures amid the swaying wheat or barley stalks, from six inches to two feet above the ground.
Not infrequently this species departs from the usual customs that have been followed for so long, and nests in treetops. One such colony found May 25, 1906, was occupying some willows along a canal, one nest was fully thirty feet from the ground and resembled a kingbird’s home, except that several long streamers of dry tule strips were left dangling and swaying in the breeze, making the nest very conspicuous. That this site was chosen from preference and not from necessity was clearly evident, as there was a growth of tules all along the edge of the canal, and a half section of wheat adjoining. Another colony chose nesting sites among the thick foliage of a long row of fig trees, the nests being situated from twelve to twenty feet above the ground. In driving along the road after the leaves had fallen from the trees I counted eighteen nests in a short section of the row. Almost under these trees was a small ditch in which water stood nearly all summer, and which was partly concealed by willows, tules, and sedges; but perhaps the close proximity of a schoolhouse had taught the birds to elevate their nests and conceal them as well.
The nests of the bicolored blackbird are usually built in tules at various heights above standing water. A typical nest of this race is thus described by Grinnell and Storer (1924):
The neat consists of three parts: (1) An outer loosely woven framework of tule leaves fastened to the standing (dead) stems and growing leaves of the tule thicket. The attachment of this outer framework to the tules is very loose, an arrangement which undoubtedly saves some nests from being tipped over when one side is attached to growing tules and the other to a dead stem. (2) Next comes the body of the nest, a firm structure comprising some tules, but chiefly of finer material. This material is worked in while wet, either while it is green or, perhaps, after it has been taken to the stream-side and moistened. Some foxtail grass of the current season and still partly green was incorporated in this layer of one of the nests examined. Some of the material, in the particular nest here described, had a coating of green algae suggesting that tules broken down into the water had been used. This middle, wet-woven layer when dried and ready for use is so strong as not to break on moderate pressure with the hands. This is the important structural element in the nest. (3) Finally there is an inner lining of fine dry grass stems of the previous year’s growth. The fibers of this layer are chiefly interwoven with each other, but some extend into the middle layer and hold the two layers together. This inner layer forms the soft lining on which the eggs and later the newly hatched young rest. Later still it gives a holdfast for the sharp claws of the growing young who can thus secure themselves against being tumbled out of the nest during high winds or when the nest is beset by marauders.
On this point they say that “a single young bird, nearly fledged, was found in one of the nests examined at Lagrange. When an effort was made to lift this bird from the nest, he clung tenaciously to it and each of his sharp claws had to be released in turn from the lining material. Later, when released over dry ground, he flew in a direct line toward the nearest patch of green, a willow tree, and the instant he touched the foliage he seized the latter with clenching claws and hung there until disengaged again.”
Eggs: Four eggs seems to be the usual number for the bicolored redwing; sets of five are rare, and Grinnell and Storer (1924) report one set of six. They say: “The ground color of the eggs is pale blue, and the scattered markings of dark brown or black, chiefly at the larger end of the egg, consist of dots, spots, streaks, and lines, the latter often running around the pole of the egg.” Bendire (1895) says: “The average measurement of forty-four specimens in the United States National Museum Collection is 24.07 by 17.35 millimetres, or about 0.95 by 0.68 inch. The largest egg in tile series measures 26.42 by 17.78 millimetres, or 1.04 by 0.70 inches; the smallest, 21.34 by 16.76 millimetres. or 0.84 by 0.66 inch.”
Food: F. E. L. Beal (1910) made a comprehensive study of the food of the bicolored redwing based on the examination of 198 stomachs collected in every month in the year. The food was found to consist of 14 percent animal matter and 86 percent vegetable matter. The greatest amount of animal food, insects, was eaten in May, amounting to nearly 91 percent. Beetles, mostly leaf beetles and weevils, aggregated about 5 percent. Wasps and ants were eaten very sparingly in summer, as were certain bugs, less than 1 percent of each for the year. Grasshoppers constituted over 15 percent of the food in July, bat only 1.5 percent for the year. Caterpillars aggregated 5.5 percent for the year, but amounted to over 45 percent of the food in May. The vegetable food consists of grain and weed seeds.
Grain amounts to 70 and weed seed to 15 percent. The grain consists of corn, wheat, oats, and barley. Oats are the favorite. They amount to over 47 percent of the yearly food, and were eaten in every month except February, when they were replaced by barley. The month of maximum consumption was December, when nearly 72 percent was eaten, but several other months were nearly as high. Wheat stands next to oats in the quantity eaten, nearly 13 percent. It was taken quite regularly in every month except March and May. Barley was found only in stomachs taken in February, October, and November, and nearly all of it was taken in February. The average for the year is 5.5 percent. Corn is eaten still less than barley, and nearly all was consumed in September, when it reached 46 percent of the month’s food. A little was eaten in May, August, and October, but the aggregate for the year is only slightly more than 4 percent .
Fruit is not eaten by the bicolored redwing. Among the weed seeds, amounting to 15 percent of the total food, he lists 12 species of troublesome weeds and other useless plants. Of the food of the young, he says: “The food was made up of 99 percent of animal matter and 1 percent of vegetable, though most of the latter was mere rubbish, no doubt accidental. Caterpillars were the largest item, and amounted to an average 45 percent. Beetles, many of them in the larval state, stood next with 32 percent. Hemiptera, especially stinkbugs and leafhoppers, amounted to 19 percent. A few miscellaneous insects and spiders made up the other 3 percent.”
As to the economic status of this blackbird, he writes: “In summing up the facts relating to the food of the bicolored redwing, the most prominent point is the great percentage of grain. Evidently if this bird were abundant in a grain-raising country it would be a menace to the crop. But no complaints of the bird’s depredations on grain have been made, and it is significant that the grain consumed is not taken at or just before the harvest, but is a constant element of every month’s food. As the favorite grain is oats, which grows wild in great abundance, it must be admitted that, with all its possibilities for mischief, the bird at present is doing very little damage.”
Tyler (1913) says that in the Fresno district, “farmers regard this bird with considerable disfavor on account of its fondness for newly planted grain, and because of its attacks upon ripening Kaffir, or Egyptian, corn. In districts where large fields of alfalfa are under irrigation these birds are of much service in destroying various bugs and worms.
Harold C. Bryant (1912) made a thorough study of the relation of birds to a grasshopper outbreak that occurred in the San Joaquin Valley in 1912. Although the number of grasshoopers taken per day by each individual bicolored redwing was exceeded by the daily numbers taken by several other species (this bird ranking sixth in this respect), by reason of its much greater abundance the total number of grasshoppers destroyed by the species as a whole far exceeded that for any other species. He figured that the total population of bicolored redwings consumed 78,590 grasshoppers per day; western meadowlarks came next with a daily score of 24,720 for the total population. “The bicolored redwing was the bird most abundant. Large flocks of from one to four hundred individuals were often seen busily engaged in catching grasshoppers. At times these flocks were seen at a considerable distance from their usual habitat. They appeared to feed almost wholly in the infested districts, and more often in alfalfa fields than in pasture land.”
Range: The bicolored redwing is resident in the Great Valley of California from Fouts Springs, Red Bluff and Columbia Hill south to Los Banos, Cuddy Valley, and Visalia .
Casual record: Casual in southeastern California (Calipatria).
AGELAJUS PHOENICEUS ACICULATUS Mailhiard
Joseph Mailliard (1915a) described this scarce and extremely local subspecies as “similar to Agelaius phoenieeu.s neutraIi.~, but of larger size, feet averaging somewhat larger; but chiefly characterized by a longer, and comparatively more slender bill than any other form of this genus in the United States.”
Of its range, he said: “So far this form has only been found in eastcentral Kern County, Calif., in the Walker Basin, just north of the town of Caliente, and on the South Fork of Kern River, between Isabella and Onyx, thus probably being restricted to a very small range.” And speaking of its coloration and markings, he said that this form “seems to be between neutralis and nevadensis, both racially and geographically, and appears to have been developed by some unknown factor in the small area it must occupy among the foothills of the southern Sierra. Specimens of Agelajus taken at Buena Vista Lake, thirty or forty miles west of this area, and across the plains, are indistinguishable from the general run of neutrali~, while the form on the east is sonoriensis, and that on the northeast is Grinnell’s new form, nevadertsis.”
A. J. van Rossem (1926) gives the following diagnosis for the Kern redwing:
Size larger and bill longer than in any other California race. Males very similar to californicus both in individual and average amount of black present on exposed portions of middle wing coverts. Females also paralleling californicus in vailability, but coloration richer; feather edgings, where present, stronger in tone, with rich browns and buff at a maximum; grays at a minimum.* * *
In view of its coloration aciculatus is obviously of “gubernator” origin, and because of its isolated habitat it has not been affected by the thick-billed “phoeniccus’ stock which is now dominant in the San Diegan Faunal Area and in parts of the San Joaquin Valley. Such modification as has taken place has come from the east, from the slender-billed chain, as is at once apparent from bill proportion and shape.* * *
Aciculatus departs entirely from its breeding grounds directly after the nesting season. The bulk of the individuals probably winter in the San Joaquin Valley, but because of their comparatively limited numbers the collecting of one is a matter of chance. There is at hand a female taken at Buena Vista Lake on December 30, a young male from the same locality April 14 (not breeding) and an adult male from Corona, Riverside County, December 8. The Corona male is not typical but is best referable to this race .
Mailliard (1915b) in a later paper makes these further remarks on the Kern redwing:
That the habitat of the Kern Red-wing is extremely limited seems, from our present knowledge, to be a reasonable conclusion, even though it is known to inhabit two districts rather widely separated topographically. The first place where it was found was the “Walker Basin,” which is a meadowlike valley of only a few thousand acres in extent, separated from the San Joaquin Valley by a range of mountains over four thousand feet high, its only outlet being by way of a narrow gorge through which the Walker Creek flows into the Kern River, whose bed is at the bottom of a narrow canyon for miles below the point of intersection. The marshy portion of the Walker Basin is so limited that but few individuals exist there. In fact we saw none at all while passing along the edge of this district, but van Rossem took some there in 1914.
As far as we know, the next, and only other, spot where these birds are to be found is on the South Fork of the Kern River, some four or five miles above its junction with the North Fork, twenty-five or thirty miles farther inland than the Walker Basin and separated from it by two fairly high ranges of mountains, the river itself being probably at an elevation at this point of some 3,000 feet. Here the narrow valley opens out a bit, to half a mile or more in width, with “fans” covered with desert vegetation running up into the steep canyons that cut into the masses of shattered rock which constitute the mountains on either side. In the comparatively level bottom are small marshy spots and lagunas where bunches of tules or cat-tails grow, while in places water has been brought in from the river and alfalfa or barley is grown.
We found the red-wings mostly in the lagunas, or near them, though some were seen among the hundreds of Brewer Blackbirds (Eu phagus cyanocephalus) which were following the water as it spread over the fields and feasting on the insects among the alfalfa. The red-wings were usually in small groups or colonies, and far from numerous. In fact we came across but few spots they seemed to favor by their presence. This irrigated strip extends some eight or ten miles up the river to where the valley contracts again and it seems to be the only likely locality in which to expect these birds in all that neighborhood .
The Kern redwing is resident in the mountain valleys of east-central Kern County, sQuth-central California (Bodfish, Isabella, Weldon, Onyx). In winter probably near breeding range; recorded at Buena Vista Lake.
San Diego Redwing
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS NEUTRALIS Ridgway
Ridgway (1902) describes this race as “similar to A. p. sonohensis, but smaller, the adult female darker, with streaks less strong]y contrasted above, those on lower parts rather broader and grayer, the upper parts with little if any rusty, even in winter plumage.”
Comparing it with other California forms, A. J. van IRossem (1926) calls it “similar to Agelajus phoeniceus californic-us in size and shape of bill. Males with exposed portions of middle wing coverts more extensively buffy, often unmarked with black. Females more streaked (less blackish below) and with coloration paler throughout. Differs from Agelajus phoeniceus nevadensis in heavier bill in both sexes, and in broader streaking on underparts of the females.” He finds its range to be the Pacific drainage from Sierra Ju~rez, in Baja California, to west-central San Luis Obispo County, in California; and adds:
Neufrclis isacommon resident in all suitable localities in the San Diegan Faunal Area. Along the southeastern border of its range there is, because of environmental conditions, no intergradation with sonoriensis. Intergradation may occur in the San Gorgonlo Pass region of Riverside County, but there is no direct proof of this possibility. The easteromost station for neutralis in this region is Redlands, while a tongue of.sonoriensis extends up into the Coachella Valley on the desert side.* * *
Neutrclis is resident in the sense that the breeding area is coextensive with the winter range. A single exception to this statement is an adult male, No. 8205, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, taken six miles west of Imperial, Imperial County, May 6,1909, which is unquestionably referable to neu~ratis .
This race does not differ materially in its habits from neighboring races.
The San Diego redwing is resident in southwestern California (Santa Margarita, Redlands, Jacumba) and northwestern Baja California (Sierra Ju~rez, El Yalle de Ia Trinidad, El ERosario). It is casual in winter in southeastern California (Imperial) .
AGELAIUS PHOENICEUS SONORIENSIS Ridgway
A. J. van Rossem (1926) describes the Sonora redwing as being: Of the slender-billed soneriensis-nevadensis-caurinus chain. Bill longer and more slender than in nevodensis and of different shape than in caurinus. Males with middle wing coverts more often and more extensively marked with black than in nevadensis, and therefore not to be confused in this respect with caurinus which is, except in the extreme southwest corner of its range, essentially an immaculate buff-winged form. Pale tipping of feathers in fall plumage more extensive and paler than in the other California races, and very frequently persisting (even in fully adult males) on the interscapular region until the bird is in worn (late May) plumage. Females by far the palest of the California races. Paler and with narrower ventral streaking than in nevadensis; paler and less buffy than in caurtnus, with markings more diffused (less contrasted) than in that form.* * *
After examining the type, a young female in first winter plumage taken at Camp Grant, 60 miles east of Tucson, Ariz., February 10, 1867, van Rossem concludes:
This locality is east of the established breeding range of sonoriensis as now understood and in a region occupied by both fortis and nevadensis in winter. Mr. Ridgway 119021 himself gives the type locality as “Mazatlan, w. Mexico.” It is unfortunate that the type was not selected from the latter locality, for Mazatlan birds are essentially the same as Colorado River valley specimens. In color, the type is not quite like the average from the metropolis of the race and its bill is shorter than any other female sonoriensis so far examined. It recalls certain young females of fortis in some particulars and its identity may yet be shown to lie in that direction. However, the case demands further material for final solution and I continue to apply the name, for the present, to the birds inhabiting the lower Colorado River and its tributaries and the coastal districts of Sonora and Sinaloa.
E. W. Nelson (1900) was the first to call attention to the unfortunate selection of a type for what we now call sonoriensis; his paper throws some light on what has caused considerable confusion as to the propriety of the name, as well as to the distribution of the subspecies.
Harry S. Swarth (1929) makes the following comments on Ridgway’s type and the status of this form in Arizona:
It (the type) differs from the mode of the Agelczius of the lower Colorado Valley, to which the name sonoriensis has been generally applied, in having a distinctly heavier, stubbier bill, in which particular it can not be matched in a large series of Colorado River birds. In coloration, however, it is closely similar to some females from the Colorado River, and correspondingly different from the mode of nevadensis and fortia. Altogether, I am disposed to let the name sonoriemsis continue to stand for the Colorado River form, and to regard the type specimen as a stray or migrajit, a winter-taken bird from beyond the normal breeding range of the subspecies. There has already been such a confusion of the names applied to this race, as well as to the proper type locality, that I am unwilling to suggest a change that might cause further trouble.
The point I wish to emphasize here is the fact that there are two subspecies of Agelaius phoeniceus breeding in southern Arizona, one occupying the valley of the lower Colorado River and its tributaries as far east as Tucson, the other, the region east from the Santa Catalina and Santa Rita mountains. Breeding birds from Phoenix and Tempe are mostly indistinguishable from Colorado Valley specimens. Breeding birds from near Tucson are intermediate, some of them having distinctly heavy and stubby bills, as compared with the slender-billed western race, but on the whole they are best associated with the Colorado Valley subspecies .
If we accept the conclusions of van Rossem and Swarth, which seem reasonable in view of our present knowledge, we must revise our ideas of the breeding range of the Sonora redwing. For a number of years in the past this form was supposed to breed in suitable localities entirely across the arid portions of southern Arizona and even in extreme southwestern New Mexico, but now its breeding range seems to be limited to the area cited under “distribution,” below.
The range of the Sonora redwing lies in southeastern California and Nevada to western Mexico. It is resident from southeastern California (Indio), southern Nevada (opposite Fort Mohave, Arizona), central-western, central, and southeastern Arizona (Mohave, Wikicup, Safford); south to northeastern Baja California (Colorado Delta) and northern Sonora. It winters south to southern Baja California (Santiago, San Jose del Cabo), southern Sinaloa (Mazathin, Escuinapa), and central Durango (Papasquiero).