What to See Now: Red-winged Blackbirds

Since red-winged blackbirds are one of the most numerous native birds in North America, they make for an easy introduction into bird watching.

YOTB_stacked_KIn celebration of the Year of the Bird, we will highlight some of the birds and their behaviors that you can observe at certain times throughout the year.

A male red-winged blackbird. All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

If you cruise along just about any road in Colorado that passes through marshy or wet land, or hike by a lake or stream, you are likely to see red-winged blackbirds. Sleek and black, with bright orange, red and yellow shoulder patches, the males are what you will notice first — sitting on a cattail, wire fence or power line singing their conk-la-lee! song. Males sing to mark their territory and attract females, both of which they will aggressively protect. I once saw a red-winged blackbird repeatedly dive-bomb a belly boater that had ventured too close to its territory.

A female red-winged blackbird looks very similar to a large sparrow.

Female red-winged blackbirds look a lot like a large sparrow with their brown, streaked coloring. They blend in well with the cattails, grasses and reeds where they search for food or collect nest material. Blackbirds will nest in loose groups, with the male overseeing five to 15 females in its territory. The females may mate with just the male that guards their territory, or may also mate with nearby males. Each breeding season, they will raise one or two broods of 2–4 eggs. Their nest are made close to the ground or waterline in marsh vegetation, shrubs or trees.

Since red-winged blackbirds are one of the most numerous native birds in North America, they make for an easy introduction into bird watching.


Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.

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