Discover the Red-winged Blackbird Mating, Nesting, Feeding Habits

The Red-winged Blackbird is found in marshes and meadows. In central California, this bird has no yellow on the shoulder patch. They are sometimes called Bicolored Blackbirds.

Males defend a territory of 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre by singing from perches with open wings and red shoulder patches exposed.

Wintering in the southern states, the birds head north at the first hint of spring.

The males arrive first, with the females arriving several weeks later.

Male Red-winged Blackbird Perched on top of feeder pole

Red-winged Blackbird


The Red-wing Blackbird is 7 to 9 1/2 inches in length. The male bird is black with red shoulders bordered with yellow.

Most people, when they see the female at their feeders, ask, "What bird is that". Female red-winged Blackbirds look nothing like the males.

The female is brown above and heavily streaked brown below with a sharp-pointed bill and a buffy, whitish eyebrow.

The young males are similar to the adult female but darker and with an orangish shoulder patch bordered by white. The young female Red-wings look like adult females.

Red-winged Blackbird Call

Mating - Courtship Habits

Older males arrive first, staking their territory and defending it against other males. You may see them in early spring at your feeders.

During the breeding season, males establish territories and perform elaborate courtship displays to attract females.

These displays involve the male puffing up his feathers, spreading his wings, and flashing his bright red shoulder patches while singing a distinctive song.

Do Red-winged Blackbirds Mate for Life?

Red-winged Blackbirds are polygynous, meaning they mate with multiple females.

The size of a male's territory can determine how many females he can attract and mate with. Three mates per breeding season are the average.

Females select which territory to nest in and breed with the male of that territory.

The pair ends their relationship at the end of the nesting season.

The breeding season can start as early as February and go through to August, depending on location, with the peak being mid-May to July.

Once territories and mates are somewhat established, first-year males appear. Older males will chase the younger males away.

The young will gather in bachelor flocks and wait until next year.

Pairs may breed again in successive seasons, but the Red-winged Blackbird does not mate for life.

Blackbirds Coming to Roost

Nesting Habits

The nest is built by the female and is cup-shaped, made of grass, lashed to reeds, or in a small bush.

Male red-winged blackbirds can be very aggressive when defending their territory and mates.

They will often attack other males and even larger animals that come too close. Females may also attack intruders if they feel threatened.

The female lays and incubates 3 to 5 pale blue, marked with zigzag lines of brown or blackish eggs.

male red-winged blackbird feeding nestlings

Feeding Young

Incubation will last about 12 days and both adults feed the young a diet of mostly insects.

The young will leave the nest in 10 to 13 days after hatching.

Red-winged Blackbird Nesting Stats
Red-winged Blackbird Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 5
Incubation 12 days
Nestling Phase 10- 13 days
Broods 1 - 2

The adults will continue feeding the young for at least another 2 weeks. 1 - 2 broods raised each season.

Habitat and Range

While most people see the Red-winged Blackbird in freshwater marshes, these birds are highly adaptable.

They can also be found nesting around ponds, lakes, ditches, and even hay fields and pastures or suburban habitats.

Their breeding range can be from Southern Alaska through Central Canada and South through all 50 US states.

Their range can go further South to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. Their adaptability is the reason they were once one of the most abundant species.

Red-winged Blackbird populations have been declining due to population control, habitat loss, and agricultural land use change.

red-winged fledgling perched on tree limb

Fledgling Perched on Limb

Feeding Habits

The Red-winged Blackbird feeds on seeds, grain, insects, and spiders. Will come to bird feeders for cracked corn or seed mixes.

Sometimes arrives at feeders in large flocks. You can try to keep them off feeders by using cracked corn on a ground feeder away from other feeders.

Depending on the season, their diet changes. In winter, they'll eat mostly plant material.

During the nesting season, they switch to a more insect-rich diet and lower amounts of seeds.

Fall and Winter Behavior

Red-winged blackbirds are primarily resident birds, with populations in the northern parts of their range migrating south for the winter.

Red-winged blackbirds typically begin their southward migration in late summer or early fall, with most birds traveling to the southern United States and Mexico.

During migration, red-winged blackbirds often form large flocks that can number in the thousands.

These flocks may include other blackbird species, as well as other migratory songbirds.

During the winter, red-winged blackbirds prefer wetland habitats like marshes and swamps, as well as fields and open woodlands.

They may also be found near agricultural areas where they can feed on a variety of foods, including seeds, fruit, and insects.

Listen to the Call

At night, red-winged blackbirds roost in dense vegetation or in communal roosts, which can contain thousands of birds.

These roosts provide protection from predators and help the birds conserve body heat.


Yasukawa, K. and W. A. Searcy (2020). Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, USA.

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Birds and Blooms Pioneer Woman People Magazine First For Women