Red-Winged Blackbirds: The First Sign of Spring

Wednesday, March 17, 2021
The first day of spring is only days away at this point (Yipee!!!) and the signs are certainly showing. Red-Winged Blackbirds are being spotted in the region, for many they represent spring as they are often the first migrant to return each year. During this time, male Red-Winged blackbirds will do anything to be noticed, you can often see them perched, belting out their conk-la-ree! song all day long. 

Male Red-Winged Blackbird on a perch. Photo by Shayna Hartley. 
Males of this species are hard to mistake, as they bear the iconic black bodies with red and yellow shoulder badges.. they match the description of a red-winged blackbird. However, the females of the species can often fool us. They are not black and do not have red on their wings, it is no wonder that people get confused! Females are streaked in appearance and dark brown all over. 

Female Red-Winged Blackbird 

Admittedly, the first time I saw one I thought it MUST be some rare bird I had never seen before, only to eventually identify it as a female red-winged blackbird. Our focus tends to be on the males during spring and summer because they are calling out, hoping to be noticed. The females often maintain a lower profile but are stunning in their own way. 

Behaviour wise, something else changes once males are successful in attracting a female. During spring and summer, sometimes Red-winged blackbirds gain notoriety for their aggressive behaviour. People wonder why these birds are diving at people who walk by, thinking they have done nothing to provoke such an "attack". Last spring in a park where I often take birding walks, I knew where some nests were and avoided the areas strictly because I knew the males would dive at me. Whenever people become afraid or wonder why they would be doing this, I just tell them that they are fierce fathers, defending their nest. If you think of it that way, it is fairly endearing. During nesting season we should do our best to give all species more space to raise their young. If a blackbird dives at you, consider it a warning that there is a nest nearby. 

Sometimes you will even see them target birds much larger than them, like this male diving at a Great Blue Heron. Photo by Larry Durkee and shared in our Ontario Birds by WBU Barrie and WBU Newmarket community. 

Although Red-winged blackbirds are a native species, some backyard bird-feeders become concerned in the spring that their feeders will be overtaken by "blackbirds" of different varieties. This is an overarching term that is generally used to encompass Common Grackles, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, and Red-winged blackbirds. 
While some may want to exclude them entirely, others just want to make sure there is still space for other songbirds to visit. Our tips for excluding "blackbirds" from some or all feeders include: 

1) Offer foods with less appeal to them: this can include WBU Simply Suet, Safflower Seed and cylinders, Peanuts in Shell, and Nyjer seed. 
2) Exclude them by using hardware to prevent them from accessing certain feeders. This could include WBU Tube Feeder Cages, WBU Seed Cylinder Cage, and the WBU Starling Proof Suet/ Peanut Feeder. 
3) Slow them down: it is hard to have an all-you-can-eat buffet if the seed is just harder to access for certain species. Such feeders would include the popular WBU Eliminator, Squirrel Buster Suet, and our Hanging Mealworm feeder. 

For more information on excluding or limiting blackbirds, you can read our full problem-solving page here

There are only two more days until the Spring Equinox, but who's counting?? We hope you are enjoying the sights and sounds that tell us warmer weather is on its way. How amazing that it is often nature who lets us know that change is coming. Keep your ears and eyes open and get ready for all the spring migrants that will be headed our way. Red-winged blackbirds are just a start! 

Happy Spring!! 



Warmly, 


Heather

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