The Red-winged blackbird, belonging to family Icteridae, is a passerine bird. They are native to north and central America. This species is one of the most studied wild birds in the world. It is one of the eleven species that belong to genus Agelaius. Researchers often claim this to be the most plentiful living land bird in North America. As per Partners in Flight, their present worldwide breeding population around 130 million; which is 60 million less than what it used to be in 1974.
Species: A. phoeniceus
The scientific name for Red-winged blackbird is Agelaius phoeniceus.
Agelaius phoeniceus is sexually dimorphic. Its common name has come from male’s red shoulder patches. Males also possess a light yellow wing patch.
The upper parts of the females are dark-brown and the underparts are a pale brown. Unlike the nominate subspecies, bicolored subspecies’ adult males do not have yellow wing patch. And, the females of the bicolored subspecies are a bit darker compared to the females of the nominate subspecies. Males are a little larger than females. Adult males are 22 to 24 centimeters in length and their weight is around 64 grams; while adult females are 17 to 18 centimeters long and they weigh around 41 to 42 grams. Depending upon the region, male’s weight can be a heavy as 82 grams. Both male and female possess pointed, sharp bill. Their eyes, feet, and bill are black. Their tail is rounded. The plumage color of the juveniles is similar to that of an adult female.
Cattail marsh is their most preferred habitat. However, this species also inhabit irrigation canals, salt marshes, wet meadows, wooded swamps, roadside ditches, hay fields, shrubby upland areas, and vegetated wetlands. They do not need huge territories.
During winter, they can often be seen congregating in large numbers in agricultural areas.
Their breeding range includes Newfoundland and southern Alaska in the north; Florida, Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico and Guatemala in the south. Breeding populations are often found in northwestern Costa Rica, northwestern Honduras, and western El Salvador. Their winter range depends on their geographic location.
Northern populations of this bird migrate to the southern United States and Central America during winter (which may start as early as August in some ranges). Most of the native western, as well as mid-American populations, are not migratory.
They are diurnal, spending most of the day looking for food. They are strong and agile fliers. They migrate in groups, often in thousands. Red-winged blackbirds hardly fight each other, even the males. During fall and winter, they flock with cowbirds, Grackles, Starlings and other blackbirds. Males sing through much of the start breeding season. In order to find a suitable mate, males go after the females at top flying speed. Once the pair is formed, females mostly stay busy in collecting nest materials. Both male and female aggressively defend their nests from intruders. They breed in loose colonies.
This species is polygynous. Males mate with 2 or 4 females. However, that number can go up to 15 at times. Nests are primarily made of grass and rootlets.
Female typically lay 3 to 4 eggs. The incubation period lasts for 11 to 13 days. Female take care of the hatchlings and bring them foods. The young ones leave the nest when they are two weeks old, but they stay near the territory for another two weeks. Female feed the juveniles for another two or three weeks if they stay near the territory.
Agelaius phoeniceus is omnivorous. They usually feed on plant materials, including seeds from waste grains or weeds. Their diet also consists of insects and small animals (especially during the breeding season), such as moths, flies, damselflies, butterflies, dragonflies, mollusks, spiders, worms, carrion, eggs, frogs, and snails among others. At times, they also eat blackberries, blueberries, and other fruits.
In their natural habitat, their lifespan is between 2 to 3 years.
Their primary call is a throaty check with the slurred whistle. Male’s song is a scratchy and rough ‘oak-a-lee.’ Females’ song is a ‘chit chit chit chit cheer teer teer’ chatter.
Their predators include Accipiter hawks, Barn owls, Northern saw-whet owls, Short-tailed hawks, Magpies, Ravens, Herons, Crows, etc. Eggs and nestlings are vulnerable to Foxes, Minks, Raccoons, and Snakes among others.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Agelaius phoeniceus in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the population of the Red-winged Blackbird has declined by more than thirty percent throughout most of its native range from 1966 to 2014.
Its genus name Agelaius has come from Ancient Greek ‘agelaios’ that means ‘belonging to a flock’; while the species name ‘phoeniceus’ has derived from Latin in which it means ‘deep red.’
Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist Carl Linnaeus first described this bird as Oriolus phoeniceus in Systema Naturae. However, later it was clubbed along with the American blackbirds.
The oldest known lifespan of a Red-winged Blackbird individual was 15 years and 9 months. It was banned in 1967 in New Jersey; and in 1983, it was found injured in Michigan. It was released after it recuperates from its wounds.
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