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.
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.
Older males arrive first, staking their territory and defending it against other males. You may see them in early spring at your feeders.
Red-winged Blackbirds are polygynous, averaging 3 mates per breeding 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.
The nest is built by the female and is cup-shaped, made of grass, lashed to reeds, or in a small bush.
Both males and females will defend the nest against predators.
The female lays and incubates 3 to 5 pale blue, marked with zigzag lines of brown or blackish eggs.
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.
The adults will continue feeding the young for at least another 2 weeks. 1 - 2 broods raised each season.
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.
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.
In fall, enormous flocks will congregate while feeding and at night, they will roost together by the thousands.
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. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rewbla.01