I have three photos of the Red-winged Blackbird to share with you this week. One of this week’s photos is, indeed, from my back yard. Another is from the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque, and the third is from the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro. I chose these three photos to illustrate how the coloration of birds can vary over time as well as between male vs. female. I have only seen a Red-winged Blackbird in my yard once, resulting in one of these photos. They are much more common in areas that are close to water sources.
The Red-winged Blackbird, common throughout the year in New Mexico and much of the U.S., is about 7-9 inches long from beak to tail. An adult male has bright red and yellow patches along the front of his wings. However, a first year male will only show the yellow patch during his first summer. Their coloration can also vary depending upon the position of their wings. If they fold their wings in just the right way, the colors may be almost completely obscured.
When a male Red-winged Blackbird is trying to defend territory or to attract a mate, he will display his colors with his wings spread wide while he sings loudly. Females, in contrast, are much more plain with simple brown and beige streaks along their wings, sometimes with a subtle red-orange patch at the front of each wing or under their beak.
Once they have mated, these birds will nest in a marshy area among cattails, or in bushes near water. The female is responsible for building the nest with materials often found in marshlands, like reeds, grasses, and leaves. Once they have laid their blue-green eggs, the female will incubate them for about 10-12 days. But both parents will feed them when they hatch, until they leave about two weeks later.
These birds eat insects and seeds. Most of their diet is seeds, but they also eat spiders, millipedes, snails, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other insects. They will also eat some small fruits.
Even though these birds are more commonly seen near water, keep your eyes peeled for them as they pass through! You never know when one might stop for a rest or a snack!