Red-winged Blackbird Dossier

by Carl Strang

Here’s another example of a species dossier. The idea is to separate what I have learned through my own observations from what I have learned through the literature or others’ observations. It is a tool that has enriched my understanding and improved my focus in the field. The initial summary, written when I established the dossier in the mid-1980’s, is followed by entries marked by my date code. Each month is represented by the first two letters of its name, except when two months begin with the same letter. Then, the second letter is unique to that month (JA, JE, and JL for January, June and July, respectively).

Blackbird, Red-winged

Nests seen in cattail marshes, attached to cattails, although birds also defend territories in dry, tall grass meadows. Out of breeding season may show up anywhere, though usually in open areas. Male advertizes with song (kong-la-ree’-er), either while perched or descending to perch on, say, tall cattail head. Capable of hiding or elevating and exposing red shoulder patches. When people approach nest, male especially but also female get highly excited, hovering overhead with sharp dry “keck” notes. Some individuals swoop down at intruders. Also chase crows, hawks. Hunt insects in breeding season, visit cornfields in flocks in fall. Gone from the north in winter.

5MR87. In morning, first of year on perches beside Butterfield Rd.

6MR88. Numbers of them at Winfield Mounds.

12MR89. First of year seen on way to Hartz Lake.

15AP89. Males often seen swiftly and closely chasing females, this time of year. Is she testing him, listening for wheezing, etc.?

1NO99. Last of the season seen at Willowbrook.

21FE00. Among several Brewer’s blackbirds at Fermilab’s buffalo feeders, a single male red-winged blackbird which called, once.

18JE00. A female flushed from a nest when I was about 10 feet away. Nest with 3 eggs, a woven grass cup ~3″ deep by 4″ across, attached to a dead woody stem in its fork, in a canary reed grass area and within the level of the grass, ~3 feet off the ground. Near edge of Herrick marsh.

22OC01. Some red-wings singing in the morning at south Blackwell.

31OC01. Flocks of red-wings and grackles remain (Nelson Marsh, Kane Co.)

4NO01. An enormous flock of red-wings and grackles along Kirk Road in eastern Kane County. The species were staying apart, on the whole, and there were mainly grackles, but there were hundreds of each. They were landing in a harvested corn field.

16MY06. Tri-County S.P. A male red-winged blackbird took flight and went straight for a pair of cowbirds foraging on the ground, more than 50 feet away. It chased them away, turning back as they kept going.

18MR09. Mayslake. Both red-wing and grackle include tail fanning and wing spreading in their displays. In the red-wing, these movements accompany the song but are expressed in a range from not at all or nearly so, slight fanning of tail, slight tail fanning and spreading of wings, much tail fanning and wing spreading.

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