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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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Maximum longevity: 20 years
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Reproduction
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Red-winged blackbirds are extremely polygynous with as many as 15 females nesting in the territory of a single male. On average, a single male has roughly 5 females. Although copulation occurs mostly between the sovereign male and those females that inhabit his territory, roaming males are known to mate with the females on other territories. These behaviors seem to increase the chances of successful reproduction within a given mating season, compensating for broods and individuals lost to nest-predation and nest parasitism.

Mating rituals begin with the song of the male. Females often do not return songs until they have established themselves in the territory of a male. Male pre-coital displays include vocalization in a crouched position with rapid and highly conspicuous fluttering of the wings. The female responds with a similar crouch and vocalization. Mating occurs in the egg-laying period or just prior and is characterized by a brief contact between the cloacal vents of the male and the female.

Mating System: polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Breeding begins in the early spring and continues until mid-summer. Females may raise as many as three broods in a single season, although the average is 1.7 broods per season. Females choose nesting sites most often in wetland or agricultural areas (although a wide variety of nesting habitats are know to be exploited) and males perform a nesting display, which constitutes his main involvement in the nest building process. Nest building begins between March and May. Usually, the further south you go, the earlier the nest is built. After a female accepts the male and his site, the nest is built in or near marshland or moist, grassy areas. Plant materials, such as cattail stalks, are woven together to form a basket above water level, and soft materials are used to line the nest. Three to five pale greenish-blue, black or purple streaked eggs are laid per clutch. Each egg is approximately 2.5 by 1.8 cm. Nests can be completed in as little as a single day, especially if no mud-lining is constructed.

Clutch size is from 3 to 7 eggs and the eggs are incubated for 3 to 11 days. Chicks fledge in 10 to 14 days and are independent in 2 to 3 weeks. Juveniles usually reach sexual maturity in 2 to 3 years.

Breeding interval: Females may raise as many as three broods in a single season, although the average is 1.7 broods per season.

Breeding season: Breeding begins in the early spring and continues until mid-summer.

Range eggs per season: 3 to 7.

Average eggs per season: 4.

Range time to hatching: 11 to 13 days.

Average time to hatching: 11 days.

Range fledging age: 14 to 10 days.

Average fledging age: 14 days.

Range time to independence: 2 to 3 weeks.

Average time to independence: 2 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 2 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 4 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

Average eggs per season: 4.

Incubation is the sole responsibility of females. Red-winged blackbird eggs tend to hatch at different times and the mother will continue to incubate until the last egg has hatched. Nestlings are fed almost immediately after hatching. Parents often begin with smaller portions and increase food amounts progressively. Young red-winged blackbirds are fed small arthropods, especially Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), and Diptera (true flies). The nestlings are fed primarily by the female although the male will, at times, take part in the feeding process. In cases in which the mother is absent, males are known to take over feeding responsibilities for the brood. Fledglings leave the nest after 14 days and are fed by the female and, to a lesser degree, the male for two to three weeks before joining a flock of females. Within a year most red-winged blackbirds have joined mixed flocks.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Behavior
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Males learn songs from other males. Both males and females have a variety of calls, some of which are the same. Only the males produce flight calls, which signal their exit from the territory. Both males and females employ distress and alarm calls which differ with the nature of the threat. Specific calls seem to communicate the presence of specific predators, such as raccoons or American crows. Short contact calls are also quite common, especially between a territorial male and the females in his territory. Threat calls are used to ward off predators, other birds and other red-winged blackbirds. Courtship calls vary little between males and females and are used only in the breeding season. Male songs are used to announce territorial boundaries and to attract mates. Female songs occur in the early breeding season and are most common before the incubation period.

Male red-winged blackbirds utter their familiar territorial and mate attraction song of "oak-a-lee" or "konkeree" in the spring. The last syllable is given more emphasis as a scratchy or buzzy trill. The common call used by both males and females is a "check" call. Males may utter a whistled "cheer" or "peet" call if alarmed. Other calls made by the male include a "seet," a "chuck," or a "cut." Females may utter a short chatter or sharp scream. A pre-mating call, "ti-ti-ti," may be uttered by both sexes.

Visual displays are also a key form of communication, especial before and during mating. Males often use visual displays in order to attract females to their territories and to defend their territories and mates. An example is the "song spread" display. Males fluff their plumage, raise their shoulders, and spread their tail as they sing. As the display becomes more intense, the wings are more arched with the shoulders showing more prominently. Females will also engage in a "song spread" display directed at each other early in the breeding season. One possibility is that a female will defend a sub-territory within the male's territory. Females will engage in a "wing flip" display when a disturbance prevents them from returning to the nest.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Conservation Status
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As one of the most common, widespread, and numerous birds in North America, little is done to protect red-winged blackbirds from the effects of habitat loss and urbanization. Because they can survive in a wide array of habitats, many populations can overcome losses of natural terrain. Nonetheless, red-winged blackbirds thrive in wetland areas and with the loss of natural wetlands it is likely that this species will suffer. This species is a migratory bird, and is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Benefits
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Despite their consumption of the seeds of unwanted weed pests, red-wing blackbirds have been known to cause great agricultural damage due to their colonial roosting habits and taste for agricultural products. Red-winged blackbirds often open the husks of developing corn stalks to feed on corn kernels. They are also known to feed on rice paddies and sunflower seeds. This consumption of ripening crops has lead many agriculturalists to employ extremely effective and often inhumane tactics in battling red-winged blackbird populations. These tactics include the frequent use of traps, poisons, and Avitol, a chemical agent that causes birds to behave in abnormal ways. Surfactants, or wetting agents, have also caused considerable damage to red-winged blackbirds. These detergents break down the waterproofing properties of the blackbird's feathers making them extremely vulnerable to low temperatures. Because of the long history of human-blackbird conflict and their continued threat to agricultural initiatives many of these techniques are used to this day. Less harmful methods of red-winged blackbird control include the use of noisemakers and the reduction of post-harvest crop waste, which attracts hungry red-winged blackbirds to farmland.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Benefits
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Red-winged blackbirds have been known to feed on the seeds of numerous weeds that are detrimental to agricultural production. They also control insect populations, which can devastate agricultural yields.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Associations
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As highly generalized foragers and predators, red-winged blackbirds can have a great and lasting impact on their environment. By controlling insect populations through predation and weed populations through the consumption of seeds, red-winged blackbirds allow larger plants and crops to flourish. Paradoxically, red-winged blackbirds can also devastate plant growth and crop yields by feeding on the very plants their predation protects. As one of the most numerous species of birds on the continent, red-winged blackbirds also play key roles in the dispersal of other species. Because red-winged blackbirds tend to flock and roost in such large numbers the survival of other species of birds that encroach upon their territory must surely be affected by their presence. Large roosting habitats can also greatly affect the physical terrain. In short, red-winged blackbirds are so numerous and active that their presence and natural behavior alone is enough to impact an ecosystem in a very visible way.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Trophic Strategy
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Red-winged blackbirds tend to be generalized feeders, consuming a greater amount of plant tissue in the non-breeding season and a greater amount of animal material in the breeding season. Red-winged blackbirds will feed on almost any plant material they can consume, preferring seeds and agricultural products, such as corn and rice. Adult red-winged blackbirds will consume a wide variety of foods including snails, frogs, fledgling birds, eggs, carrion, worms and a wide array of arthropods. Insects, especially Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), and Diptera (true flies) are preferred, although arachnids and other insect and non-insect arthropods are consumed. For the most part, red-winged blackbirds feed on whatever they can find, picking insects out of plants and feeding on seeds and plant material. At times, red-winged blackbirds will hunt using their beaks for gaping (opening up of crevices in plant material with the beak). Red-winged blackbirds will also catch insects in flight.

Animal Foods: birds; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms

Plant Foods: roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Distribution
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The range of red-winged blackbirds extends from southern Alaska at its northern most point, to the Yucatan peninsula in the south and covers the greater part of the continent reaching from the Pacific coast of California and Canada to the eastern seaboard. Winter ranges for red-winged blackbirds vary by geographic location. Northern populations migrate south to the southern United States and Central America beginning in September or October (or occasionally as early as August). Most western and middle American populations are non-migratory.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Habitat
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Red-winged blackbirds roost and breed in a variety of habitats, but tend to prefer wetlands. They have been known to live in fresh and saltwater marshes. On drier ground, red-winged blackbirds gravitate towards open fields (often in agricultural areas) and lightly wooded deciduous forests. In winter red-winged blackbirds are most often found in open fields and croplands.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

Aquatic Biomes: brackish water

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian ; estuarine

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Life Expectancy
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In the wild, red-winged blackbirds live 2.14 years, on average. The olded recorded red-winged blackbird in the wild lived 15 years and 9 months.

Range lifespan
Status: wild:
20 (high) years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
2.14 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
189 months.

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Morphology
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Easily distinguished by their glossy black feathers and red and yellow epaulets at the shoulder, males are the more brightly colored of the two sexes. Females tend to be dusty or brownish in color with dark stripes on their undersides. Females resemble large sparrows and are often recognized by their off-white eyebrow markings. Both males and females have dark legs and claws. The beak of male red-winged blackbirds tends to be totally black, whereas the beak of female red-winged blackbirds is dark brown on top with lighter brown on the underside. Both males and females have sharply pointed beaks.

Both male and female adult red-winged blackbirds are approximately 22 cm long, weigh 41.6 to 70.5 g and have a wingspan of 30 to 37 cm. Young males and females resemble adult females in coloration. Males undergo a transitional stage in which red epaulets appear orange in color before reaching their adult coloration. Olson (1994) showed that the average basal metabolic rate for adults in his experiments was 656 cm cubed/oxygen per minute and that the rate for three-day-old birds was 296 cm cubed/oxygen per minute.

Range mass: 41.6 to 70.5 g.

Range length: 18 to 24 cm.

Average length: 22 cm.

Range wingspan: 30 to 37 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Associations
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As a result of high predation rates, especially of eggs and young, red-winged blackbirds have developed a number of anti-predator adaptations. Group nesting is one such trait which reduces the risk of individual predation by increasing the number of alert parents. Nesting over water reduces the likelihood of predation as do alarm calls. Nests, in particular, offer a strategic advantage over predators in that they are often well concealed in thick, waterside reeds and positioned at a height of one to two meters. Males often act as sentinels, employing a variety of calls to denote the kind and severity of danger. Mobbing, especially by males, is also used to scare off unwanted predators, although mobbing often targets large animals and man-made devices by mistake. The brownish coloration of the female may also serve as an anti-predator trait in that it may provide camouflage for her and her nest (while she is incubating).

Known predators include: racoons, American mink, black-billed magpies, marsh wrens, owls (family Strigidae) and hawks (order Falconiformes).

Known Predators:

  • raccoons (Procyon lotor)
  • American mink (Neovison vison)
  • black-billed magpies Pica pica
  • marsh wrens Cistothorus palustris
  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • diurnal raptors (Falconiformes)

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic ; cryptic

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Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Agelaius_phoeniceus.html
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Anthony Rosenthal, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Alaine Camfield, Animal Diversity Web
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Agelaius phoeniceus
provided by DC Birds Brief Summaries

A small (7-9 ½ inches) blackbird, the male Red-winged Blackbird is most easily identified by its small size, black body, and red-and-yellow “shoulder” patches visible as part of the male’s display. Female Red-winged Blackbirds are streaked brown overall with faint tan eye-stripes. Males are unmistakable when their bright patches are visible, and no other female blackbird in North America is so heavily streaked. The Red-winged Blackbird breeds primarily from Alaska and northwestern Canada south to northern Central America. In winter, northerly-breeding populations migrate south to the southern U.S. Populations breeding further south are generally non-migratory. Red-winged Blackbirds breed in wetland habitats, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, damp grasslands, and flooded fields where rice is grown. Birds that migrate utilize similar habitats in the winter as in summer. Red-winged Blackbirds primarily eat insects during the summer, switching to a diet composed of seeds and grains in the winter. In appropriate habitat, Red-winged Blackbirds are most easily seen while foraging for food on the stalks and leaves of marsh grasses. During the breeding season, males may be observed displaying their “shoulder” patches from prominent perches in the grass while singing this species’ buzzing “konk-la-ree” song. Red-winged Blackbirds are primarily active during the day.

Threat Status: Least Concern

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Reid Rumelt
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Agelaius phoeniceus
provided by EOL authors

A small (7-9 ½ inches) blackbird, the male Red-winged Blackbird is most easily identified by its small size, black body, and red-and-yellow “shoulder” patches visible as part of the male’s display. Female Red-winged Blackbirds are streaked brown overall with faint tan eye-stripes. Males are unmistakable when their bright patches are visible, and no other female blackbird in North America is so heavily streaked. The Red-winged Blackbird breeds primarily from Alaska and northwestern Canada south to northern Central America. In winter, northerly-breeding populations migrate south to the southern U.S. Populations breeding further south are generally non-migratory. Red-winged Blackbirds breed in wetland habitats, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, damp grasslands, and flooded fields where rice is grown. Birds that migrate utilize similar habitats in the winter as in summer. Red-winged Blackbirds primarily eat insects during the summer, switching to a diet composed of seeds and grains in the winter. In appropriate habitat, Red-winged Blackbirds are most easily seen while foraging for food on the stalks and leaves of marsh grasses. During the breeding season, males may be observed displaying their “shoulder” patches from prominent perches in the grass while singing this species’ buzzing “konk-la-ree” song. Red-winged Blackbirds are primarily active during the day.

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Rumelt, Reid B. Agelaius phoeniceus. June-July 2012. Brief natural history summary of Agelaius phoeniceus. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.
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Robert Costello (kearins)
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Red-winged blackbird
provided by wikipedia EN

The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a passerine bird of the family Icteridae found in most of North America and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras, and northwestern Costa Rica. It may winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations are generally migratory, moving south to Mexico and the southern United States. Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America, as bird-counting censuses of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years. It also ranks among the best-studied wild bird species in the world.[2][3][4][5][6] The red-winged blackbird is sexually dimorphic; the male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the red-winged blackbird's diet.

Taxonomy

The red-winged blackbird is one of 11 species in the genus Agelaius and is included in the family Icteridae, which is made up of passerine birds found in North and South America.[7] The red-winged blackbird was originally described as Oriolus phoeniceus by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work, Systema Naturae,[8] but was later moved with the other American blackbirds to the genus Agelaius (Vieillot, 1816).[9] The genus name is Latin derived from Ancient Greek, agelaios, meaning "belonging to a flock". The specific epithet, phoeniceus, is from the Latin word meaning "deep red".[10]

There are a number of subspecies, some of doubtful status, which are mostly quite similar in appearance. However, there are two isolated populations of bicolored blackbirds that are quite distinctive: A. p. californicus of California and A. p. gubernator of central Mexico. The taxonomy of these forms is little understood, and the relationships between these two populations and between them and red-winged blackbirds is still unclear.[11] Despite the similar names, the red-winged blackbird is in a different family from the European redwing and the Old World common blackbird, which are thrushes (Turdidae).[7]

Description

The common name for the red-winged blackbird is taken from the mainly black adult male's distinctive red shoulder patches, or epaulets, which are visible when the bird is flying or displaying.[12] At rest, the male also shows a pale yellow wingbar. The female is blackish-brown and paler below. The female is smaller than the male, at 17–18 cm (6.7–7.1 in) long and weighing 41.5 g (1.46 oz), against his length of 22–24 cm (8.7–9.4 in) and weight of 64 g (2.3 oz).[13] The smallest females may weigh as little as 29 g (1.0 oz) whereas the largest males can weigh up to 82 g (2.9 oz).[14] Each wing can range from 8.1–14.4 cm (3.2–5.7 in), the tail measures 6.1–10.9 cm (2.4–4.3 in), the culmen measures 1.3–3.2 cm (0.51–1.26 in) and the tarsus measures 2.1 cm (0.83 in).[11]

The males of the bicolored subspecies lack the yellow wing patch of the nominate race, and the females are much darker than the female nominate.

Young birds resemble the female, but are paler below and have buff feather fringes. Both sexes have a sharply pointed bill. The tail is of medium length and is rounded. The eyes, bill, and feet are all black.[15]

The male is unmistakable except in the far west of the US, where the tricolored blackbird occurs. Males of that species have a darker red epaulet edged with white, not yellow. Females of tricolored, bicolored, red-shouldered and red-winged blackbirds can be difficult to identify in areas where more than one form occurs. In flight, when the field marks are not easily seen, red-winged can be distinguished from less closely related Icterids such as common grackle and brown-headed cowbird by its different silhouette and undulating flight.[11]

Distribution and habitat

The range of the red-winged blackbird stretches from southern Alaska to the Yucatan peninsula in the south, and from the western coast of California and Canada to the east coast of the continent. Red-winged blackbirds in the northern reaches of the range are migratory, spending winters in the southern United States and Central America. Migration begins in September or October, but occasionally as early as August. In western and Central America, populations are generally non-migratory. [16]

The red-winged blackbird inhabits open grassy areas. It generally prefers wetlands, and inhabits both freshwater and saltwater marshes, particularly if cattail is present. It is also found in dry upland areas, where it inhabits meadows, prairies, and old fields.[16]

Behavior

Vocalisations

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One of several calls given by a male

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The calls of the red-winged blackbird are a throaty check and a high slurred whistle, terrr-eeee. The male's song, accompanied by a display of his red shoulder patches, is a scratchy oak-a-lee,[17] except that in many western birds, including bicolored blackbirds, it is ooPREEEEEom.[18] The female also sings, typically a scolding chatter chit chit chit chit chit chit cheer teer teer teerr.[11]

Predation

Virtually all of North America's raptors take adult or young red-winged blackbirds, even barn owls, which usually only take small mammals, and northern saw-whet owls, which are scarcely larger than a male red-winged. Accipiter hawks are among their most prolific predators and, locally, they are one of the preferred prey species of short-tailed hawks.[19] Crows, ravens, magpies and herons are occasionally predators of blackbird nests. Additional predators of blackbirds of all ages and their eggs include raccoons, mink, foxes and snakes, especially the rat snake. Marsh wrens destroy the eggs, at least sometimes drinking from them, and peck the nestlings to death.[20]

The red-winged blackbird aggressively defends its territory from other animals. It will attack much larger birds.[21] Males have been known to swoop at humans who encroach upon their nesting territory during breeding season.[22][23]

The maximum longevity of the red-winged blackbird in the wild is 15.8 years.[24]

Diet

The red-winged blackbird is omnivorous. It feeds primarily on plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, but about a quarter of its diet consists of insects and other small animals, and considerably more so during breeding season.[25] It prefers insects, such as dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, moths, and flies, but also consumes snails, frogs, eggs, carrion, worms, spiders, mollusks. The red-winged blackbird forages for insects by picking them from plants, or by catching them in flight.[15] In season, it eats blueberries, blackberries, and other fruit. These birds can be lured to backyard bird feeders by bread and seed mixtures and suet. In late summer and in autumn, the red-winged blackbird will feed in open fields, mixed with grackles, cowbirds, and starlings in flocks which can number in the thousands.[21]

Breeding

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Nest with eggs

The red-winged blackbird nests in loose colonies. The nest is built in cattails, rushes, grasses, sedge, or in alder or willow bushes. The nest is constructed entirely by the female over the course of three to six days. It is a basket of grasses, sedge, and mosses, lined with mud, and bound to surrounding grasses or branches.[15] It is located 7.6 cm (3.0 in) to 4.3 m (14 ft) above water.[26]

A clutch consists of three or four, rarely five, eggs. Eggs are oval, smooth and slightly glossy, and measure 24.8 mm × 17.55 mm (0.976 in × 0.691 in).[26] They are pale bluish green, marked with brown, purple, and/or black, with most markings around the larger end of the egg. These are incubated by the female alone, and hatch in 11 to 12 days. Red-winged blackbirds are hatched blind and naked, but are ready to leave the nest 11 to 14 days after hatching.[13]

Red-winged blackbirds are polygynous, with territorial males defending up to 10 females. However, females frequently copulate with males other than their social mate and often lay clutches of mixed paternity. Pairs raise two or three clutches per season, in a new nest for each clutch.[13]

Predation of eggs and nestlings is quite common. Nest predators include snakes, mink, raccoons, and other birds, even as small as marsh wrens. The red-winged blackbird is occasionally a victim of brood parasites, particularly brown-headed cowbirds.[21] Since nest predation is common, several adaptations have evolved in this species. Group nesting is one such trait which reduces the risk of individual predation by increasing the number of alert parents. Nesting over water reduces the likelihood of predation, as do alarm calls. Nests, in particular, offer a strategic advantage over predators in that they are often well concealed in thick, waterside reeds and positioned at a height of one to two meters.[27] Males often act as sentinels, employing a variety of calls to denote the kind and severity of danger. Mobbing, especially by males, is also used to scare off unwanted predators, although mobbing often targets large animals and man-made devices by mistake. The brownish coloration of the female may also serve as an anti-predator trait in that it may provide camouflage for her and her nest while she is incubating.[16] Adults are vulnerable to a multitude of raptorial birds, at least 16 species have hunted them in North America, including all Accipiter hawks and falcons as well as most species of Buteo hawk and any owls that hunt in open or wetland habitats.[28][29]

Migration

Red-winged blackbirds that breed in the northern part of their range, i.e., Canada and border states in the United States, migrate south for the winter. However, populations near the Pacific and Gulf coasts of North America and those of Middle America are year-round resident.[2] Red-winged blackbirds live in both Northern U.S. and Canada, ranging from Yucatan Peninsula in the south to the southern part of Alaska.[2] These extensions account for the majority of the continent stretching from California’s Pacific coast and Canada to the eastern seaboard. Much of the populations within Middle America are non-migratory [30] During the fall, populations begin migrating towards Southern U.S. Movement of red-winged blackbirds can begin as early as August through October. Spring migration begins anywhere between mid-February to mid-May. Numerous birds from northern parts of the U.S., particularly the Great lakes, migrate nearly 1,200 km between their breeding season and winter [2] Winter territorial areas differ based on geographic location [30] Other populations that migrate year-round include those located in Middle America or in the western U.S. and Gulf Coast. Females typically migrate longer distances than males. These female populations located near the Great Lakes migrate nearly 230 km farther. Yearly-traveled females also migrate further than adult males, while also moving roughly the same distance as other adult females. Red-winged blackbirds migrate primarily during daytime. In general, males’ migration flocks arrive prior to females in the spring and after females in the fall.[2]

Territorial

Agitated male
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male red-winged blackbird hectoring an osprey
Perched display
The "perched display", with wings held away from the body, is an agonistic behavior of the red-winged blackbird.

Male red-winged blackbirds exhibit important territorial behaviors, most of which provides them with the necessary fidelity for many years to come. A few important factors for male red-winged blackbirds’ adherence to territories included food, hiding spaces from predators, types of neighbors, and reactions towards predators. Additionally, a study was done on site fidelity and movement patterns by Les D. Beletsky and Gordon H. Orians in 1987 which explained much of the males’ territorial behaviors once migrated and settled onto a territory of their own. Sufficient evidence had shown that males are committed to staying in their territory over a long period of time and are not more likely to change territories at a younger age due to limited experience of knowledge for success. Studies also showed that most of the males that were first-time movers to a new territory were between two and three years old. The majority of males that moved were young and inexperienced. Later on they had moved towards more available territories. If males had chosen to leave their territory for reproductive success, as an example, they would do so within a short distance. Males who moved shorter distances were more successful in reproducing than those who moved longer distances. Further studies showed that when males moved further away from their territories there was a decrease in probability of successfully fledging [31]

Relationship with humans

In winter, the species forage away from marshes, taking seeds and grain from open fields and agricultural areas. It is sometimes considered an agricultural pest.[11] Farmers have been known to use pesticides—such as parathion—in illegal attempts to control their populations.[32] In the United States, such efforts are illegal because no pesticide can be used on non-target organisms, or for any use not explicitly listed on the pesticide's label. However, the USDA has deliberately poisoned this species: in 2009, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reported poisoning over 950,000 red-winged blackbirds in Texas and Louisiana.[33] This poisoning has been implicated as a potential cause of the decline of the rusty blackbird, a once abundant species that has declined 99% since the 1960s and has been recently listed as Threatened on the IUCN Red List.[34]

Like English, the indigenous languages of the bird's range describe it by its physical characteristics. In the Anishinaabe languages, an indigenous language group spoken throughout much of the bird's northeastern range, this bird's names are diverse. In the Oji-Cree language, the northernmost of the Anishinaabe languages, it is called jachakanoob, while the Ojibwa language spoken in Northwestern Ontario and into Manitoba ranging immediately south of the Oji-Cree's range, the bird is called jachakanoo (with the cognates cahcahkaniw (Swampy Cree), cahcahkaluw (coastal Southern East Cree), cahcahkayuw (inland Southern East Cree), cahcahkayow (Plains Cree)); the northern Algonquian languages classify the red-winged blackbird as a type of a junco or grackle, deriving the bird's name from their word for "spotted" or "marked". In the vast majority of the other Ojibwa language dialects, the bird is called memiskondinimaanganeshiinh, literally meaning "a bird with a very red damn-little shoulder-blade". However, in the Odawa language, an Anishinaabe language in southwestern Ontario and in Michigan, the bird is instead called either memeskoniinisi ("bird with a red [patch on its wing]") or memiskonigwiigaans ("[bird with a] wing of small and very red [patch]").[35] In N'syilxcn (Colville-Okanagan, Interior Salish language) the bird is known as ƛ̓kƛ̓aʕkək.[36]

In the Great Plains, the Lakota language, another indigenous language spoken throughout much of the bird's range, the bird is called wabloša ("wings of red"). Its songs are described in Lakota as tōke, mat'ā nī ("oh! that I might die"), as nakun miyē ("...and me"), as miš eyā ("me too!"), and as cap'cehlī ("a beaver's running sore").[37] And its name in nahuatl the Aztec idiom is "acolchichilli" that literally means "red shoulder".[citation needed]

Gallery

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    Rear view of A. p. gubernator, the "bicolored blackbird", with no yellow border to the red patch

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    Note the golden coloration on the wing of this female red-winged blackbird

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    In Sacramento County. October 2016.

References

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Agelaius phoeniceus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"""""'"'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  2. ^ a b c d e Yasukawa, Ken; Searcy, William A. (1995). A. Poole, ed. "Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)". Birds of North America Online. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  3. ^ McWilliams, Gerald M.; Brauning, Daniel W. (2000). The Birds of Pennsylvania. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801436435.
  4. ^ Dolbeer, Richard A. (2008). "Blackbirds and their Biology". Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  5. ^ Beletsky, L. (1996). The red-winged blackbird: the biology of a strongly polygynous songbird. Academic Press
  6. ^ Holm, C. H. (1973). Breeding sex ratios, territoriality, and reproductive success in the Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Ecology, 356–365.
  7. ^ a b "Agelaius phoeniceus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 2008-06-30.
  8. ^ Linnaeus, C (1766). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio duodecima, reformata (in Latin). Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). p. 161. Archived from the original on 2015-03-19.
  9. ^ Vieillot, L.P. (1816). Analyse D'Une Nouvelle Ornithologie Elementaire [A New Analysis of Elementary Ornithology] (in French). p. 33.
  10. ^ Neff, John (1997). "Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)". Northern State University. Archived from the original on 2008-02-19. Retrieved 2008-06-30.
  11. ^ a b c d e Jaramillo, Alvaro; Burke, Peter (1999). New World Blackbirds: The Icterids. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 258–269. ISBN 0-7136-4333-1.
  12. ^ Peterson, Roger Tory (1980). A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 253. ISBN 5-550-55149-7.
  13. ^ a b c Gough, Gregory (2003). "Agelaius phoeniceus". USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  14. ^ John B. Dunning Jr., ed. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  15. ^ a b c "Agelaius phoeniceus". All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2003. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
  16. ^ a b c Rosenthal, A. (2004). "Agelaius phoeniceus". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  17. ^ Peterson, Roger Tory (1999). A Field Guide to the Birds: Eastern and Central North America. HMCo Field Guides. p. 230. ISBN 0-395-96371-0.
  18. ^ Sibley, David Allen (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred Knopf. p. 513. ISBN 0-679-45122-6.
  19. ^ "The Barn Owl as a Red-Winged-Blackbird Predator in Northwestern Ohio". Kb.osu.edu. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  20. ^ Kroodsma, Donald E.; Verner, Jared (1997). A. Poole, ed. "Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)". The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
  21. ^ a b c Terres, J. K. (1980). The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York, NY: Knopf. p. 938. ISBN 0-394-46651-9.
  22. ^ "Chicago locals beware the birds". news.bbc.co.uk. BBC News. 2008-06-24. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
  23. ^ "Red-winged Blackbird". Assateague.com. 2005-05-25. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  24. ^ Wasser, D. E.; Sherman, P.W. (2010). "Avian longevities and their interpretation under evolutionary theories of senescence". Journal of Zoology. 280 (2): 103–155. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00671.x.
  25. ^ Srygley, Robert B. & Kingsolver, Joel G. (1998). "Red-wing blackbird reproductive behaviour and the palatability, flight performance, and morphology of temperate pierid butterflies (Colias, Pieris, and Pontia)". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 64 (1): 41–55. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.1998.tb01532.x.
  26. ^ a b Harrison, Hal H. (1979). A Field Guide to Western Birds' Nests. Houghton Mifflin Field. p. 228. ISBN 0-618-16437-5.
  27. ^ Cristol, Daniel. 1995. Early arrival, initiation of nesting, and social status: an experimental study of breeding female red-winged blackbirds. Behavioral Ecology. 6(1): 87–93.
  28. ^ Orians, G. H. 1980. Some adaptations of marsh-nesting blackbirds. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, NJ.
  29. ^ Nero, R. W. 1984. Redwings. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
  30. ^ a b Rosenthal, A. 2004. "Agelaius phoeniceus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 31, 2014 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Agelaius_phoeniceus/.
  31. ^ Beletsky, Les and Orians, Gordon. 1987. Territoriality among male red-winged blackbirds: I. Site fidelity and movement patterns. Behavioral ecology and sociobiology. 20: 21- 34.
  32. ^ Stone, W.B.; Overmann S.R.; Okoniewski, J.C. (1984). "Intentional poisoning of birds with parathion" (PDF). The Condor. 86 (3): 333–336. doi:10.2307/1367004.
  33. ^ Rosenberg, Martha (January 8, 2012). "Who Would Kill Blackbirds Intentionally?". Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  34. ^ Wells, Jeffrey V. (2007). Birder's Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691123233.
  35. ^ Weshki-ayaad, Lippert & Gambill. "Freelang Ojibwe Dictionary". Retrieved 2008-07-09.
  36. ^ Peterson, Sarah, Christopher Parkin and LaRae Wiley. Nsəlxcin 2 2006. interiorsalish.com
  37. ^ Buechel, Eugene and Manhard, Paul (2002). Lakota Dictionary: Lakota-English / English-Lakota; New Comprehensive Edition. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1305-0

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Red-winged blackbird: Brief Summary
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The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a passerine bird of the family Icteridae found in most of North America and much of Central America. It breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Guatemala, with isolated populations in western El Salvador, northwestern Honduras, and northwestern Costa Rica. It may winter as far north as Pennsylvania and British Columbia, but northern populations are generally migratory, moving south to Mexico and the southern United States. Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America, as bird-counting censuses of wintering red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years. It also ranks among the best-studied wild bird species in the world. The red-winged blackbird is sexually dimorphic; the male is all black with a red shoulder and yellow wing bar, while the female is a nondescript dark brown. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the red-winged blackbird's diet.

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