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Red-Winged Blackbirds - an Early Sound of Spring
Published: 2/7/2024
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February is here! It feels more like March, or even early April, but it’s not, so the winter birds are still with us. Soon, if you live near a wetland, pond, stream or lake, you’re likely to hear a sharp shrill bird call from a colorful black, red and yellow bird perched on a tree or even a house. That would be a male red-winged blackbird, one of the earliest birds to return back after winter. In anticipation of that happy event, here are some facts about them that you might not know.

What you’ll hear, and see first, is the male. They come north a few weeks before the female to scout out their territory. Here is a true sound of spring:

Females look nothing like the males. Unlike robins, which are difficult to distinguish between male and female, the female is light brown with numerous brown stripes (see the photos)

Males may have as many as 15 partners in a mating season and is very territorial, attacking other blackbirds as well as cranes, geese, swans and even people who are perceived as predators.

Males’ danger calls are omnidirectional (spread in a wide arc) while their courtship calls are directional (aimed at a specific target)

They mainly eat insects in the summer and seeds in the winter. They’ll eat from tube feeders as well as on the ground. They build their nests low among marsh vegetation, shrubs or trees. The nest is made of stringy plant material including willow bark and cattails. It’s 4-7 inches across and about 3-7 inches deep.  They have clutch sizes of 2-4 eggs and raise 1-2 broods per year.

Michigan is at the southern end of their summer breeding range. The live year-round across the United States and even into Central America. So, when you hear their distinctive trill, take heart. Spring is on the way.