Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are one of the sentinel hallmarks of Spring, sounding that distinctive call which confirms beyond any doubt that Spring has indeed arrived. If you’ve ever visited a lake shoreline or marshy area during Spring and early Summer, you’ve almost certainly heard this call:1
I didn’t realize this at the time, but the male’s habit of springing up from the emergent plants and then diving back down is his courtship dance. My go-to book on bird behavior2 is a goldmine of interesting information that offers observations and theories about the reasons behind the displays we see. The photo above shows two males – but I wonder if they are both trying to snag the attention of a female, or if they are engaged in turf-warfare?
I’m betting that this brilliant male found a mate after this flashy-dance. In fact, he may find several gals – though this would mean that he would have multiple families to take care of. The female builds the nest and incubates the young, relying on her mate(s) to help out and bring food.
Female Red-winged Blackbirds have less dramatic plumage, but are beautiful in their own right. Females have shoulder patches ranging from not-really-visible, to pretty distinctive.
At first you might think that this picture shows a couple of males, but if you look close (click to enlarge to 1200px), you’ll see that the bird below is a female. Notice the dark-but-not-black feather color and their gorgeous highlights! I am thinking that we are looking at a mated pair, with the male defending his territory…and his girl.
I’ll close with this photo of a male showing off his great shoulder patches. These birds are year-round residents of just about every state in the U.S., so if you haven’t seen one…what are you waiting for!?