The Red Badge of Spring

Red-winged Blackbird seen in springtime.

Spring is coming and I have irrefutable proof; today, I heard my first Red-Winged Blackbird of the season. That gets marked on the calendar, like the first spring peepers, the first lambs born on our farm and the first gin and tonic enjoyed on the deck. Later on, I’ll note the first fireflies and the first ripe tomato, but that’s for later. Now I’m happy enough to be reminded that spring is just around the corner.

Red Winged BlackbirdlRed-Winged Blackbirds are one of my favorite birds, even right now when they’re mobbing my feeders. For one thing, the males’ loud “Konk-a-ree” is so distinctive that even I know to look for a blackbird when I hear it. For another, I love the bright epaulettes on the males’ shoulders. These epaulettes, or badges as they are also called, are the avian equivalent of Mr. Potato Head’s Angry Eyes. The birds cover the badges when they are trying to appear submissive and display them to show aggression and territorial dominance. Take a moment to enjoy Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s video on the blackbirds’ display.

Right now, I have a high number of Red-Winged Blackbirds at my feeders, but they won’t stay long. The males are returning to stake out their territories — fields and lawns are happily not their favored breeding grounds. Normally, they prefer swamps and marshes where the blackbirds weave their little cup nests in low shrubs and cattails. The streaky brown females winter a bit further south and arrive in their northern homes after the males. They’ll raise several clutches of young over the summer, with the babies remaining dependent on the parents for over a month.

I’ll enjoy my noisy visitors for a few days and then they’ll move on. This summer I’ll hear them in the swamps where I love to kayak – calling to each other and flitting from cattail to snag as they hunt tasty bugs. In the meantime, I’d better restock those feeders!

Make every day a happy bird day!

Heidi Babb

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  • Johnna Roberts April 3, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for the info on red-winged blackbirds. This is the first year I’ve seen them at my feeder. They are just stunning birds. We live on a lake, so they will probably move closer to the water soon.

    I’ve been going through birdseed like crazy for the past month. It’s not the red-wings, but what I think are pine siskins. I’ve never seen these birds at the feeder before–they are small, streaked brown birds, smaller than a sparrow or house finch. I live in SE Alabama , so if they are pine siskins, I don’t think they will be around long (I hope). Most of the seed winds up on the ground, so it feeds others.