Thursday, January 28, 2010

Red-Winged Blackbirds

                Photo: George Gentry/USFWS

One of the most conspicuous bird residents in Beaver Creek Marsh is the red-winged blackbird.  During the spring and summer they nest in the tule and cattail marsh.  The male bird is black with prominent red patches on its shoulders.  The female is blackish-brown and paler below.   When you walk by the marsh on the county road, males will fly up into alders along the road and scold you with a distinctive call and display of expanded body and wings.  We call it the ‘just-a-minute bird” because the male alarm call is like ‘just-a-minnnute, just-a-minnnute’.  At the same time, the females remain near nests and give a scolding chatter, ‘chit chit chit’.  If you are wearing red, the birds get really excited and defensive.  Red-wing blackbirds nest in loose colonies, with males defending up to 10 females.  They are omnivorous, primarily eating seeds, insects, and berries.  The young hatch in 12 days and are ready to leave the nest 2 weeks after hatching.  The males actively defend territory and can often be seen mobbing and chasing larger crows, hawks, herons, and eagles away from nesting areas.

During the fall, large flocks of red-wing blackbirds assemble in the Sitka Spruce trees that grow near the edge of the marsh and make a loud sound with their collective calls of ‘just-a-minnnute’ and “chit chit chit’.  Then they will fly off together from the trees with a whoosh and circle around the marsh, finally to land in the trees again.  Doing this again and again, they seem restless and signal coming migration.  Eventually most of the red-winged blackbirds leave the marsh and a few dozen remain through the winter.  

The remaining residents stop being territorial and visit our field together to feed when we put seed out during periods of frost.  As spring approaches, the males become territorial again and resume their active displays, ‘just-a-minnnute’ calling, and chasing into and through the breeding season of summer.  We can feel and hear the approach of spring by their shift in behavior.
Posted by michael  

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