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Red-winged Blackbird
Agelaius phoeniceus

 Passeriforme Order - Icteridae Family

Length: 17-23 cm; Wingspan: 31-40 cm; Weight: 32-77 g

LONGEVITY: up to 16 years

Red-winged Blackbird male has glossy black plumage, with conspicuous orange red shoulders patches, bordered below by narrow yellow edge.
Female is brown on the upperparts, and has heavily streaked underparts. On the head, she has a pale eyebrow. She may have a pinkish tinge on chin and throat, and there is a trace of the male’s coloured shoulders.
Both sexes have sharp, pointed, conical bill. Legs, claws, eyes and bill are blackish.
Immature male looks like adult female, but darker, with an orange shoulder patch bordered with white.
Immature female looks like adult female.

Red-winged Blackbird nests in thick vegetation, in freshwater marshes, wetlands and grassy areas. It forages in surrounding fields, orchards and in open patches in woodlands.
Red-winged Blackbird breeds from SE Alaska across Canada and United States, and southwards to Central America.
It winters from S Canada, British Columbia, S Ontario and Nova Scotia, and southwards to Costa Rica.

Red-winged Blackbird is almost the terrestrial bird more widespread in North America.  It is an active feeder. It gleans insects and seeds on ground and in vegetation. It hawks insects in the air. Red-winged Blackbird feeds that it finds. It also uses the bill for “gaping”, to open up crevices in plants to extract invertebrates. It forages on the ground, but also in shrubs and trees.
During the breeding season, it feeds mainly on insects, and during the winter, it feeds rather on grains, in large flocks.
Red-winged Blackbird has a bill with varied uses, to open a seed, to snatch a fly, to spear a beetle or to crack open an acorn.

Red-winged Blackbird’s nest is often situated in wetland or agricultural areas. Female chooses the nest site, and male performs a nesting display, that it will be its main work in the process.
Nest is made with cattail stalks woven together, forming well made cup above water level, at about 1 metre to 2,50 metres high. It is lined with soft and fine materials. Nest is attached to growing marsh vegetation.

Red-winged Blackbird feeds mainly on seeds, but also insects, spiders, molluscs, worms, mussels, snails, crayfish, frogs, lizards, bird eggs and nestlings. They also consume some fruit and berries.

Red-winged Blackbird is considered as pest because it feeds on grain in cultivated fields, but farmers benefit because it consumes harmful insects during nesting season.
These birds are very common in appropriate habitat. Populations have increased greatly during the last century. It is one of the most common and widespread bird in North America.

Fr: Carouge à épaulettes
All : Rotschulterstärling
Esp : Turpial Sargento
It : Ittero alirosse
Nd : Epauletspreeuw
Sd : Rödvingetrupial

Photographs by Steve Garvie
His website : RAINBIRDER Photo galleries

Photographs by René Lortie
His website : http://rlortie.ca/

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA - National Geographic Society - ISBN: 0792274512


NEW WORLD BLACKBIRDS – THE ICTERIDS by Alvaro Jaramillo and Peter Burke – Helm - ISBN : 0713643331

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

All About Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)
Birds of Nova Scotia (Robie Tufts)


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Page Family Icteridae

Page Passeriforme Order

Summary cards


Red-winged Blackbird’s song is a musical gurgling “konk-la-reee”, ending in trill. Its most common call is a “chack” note. Both males and females have a large variety of calls. Alarm call is a whistled “cheer” or “peet”. Female have short shatter or sharp scream. Both sexes utter a pre-mating call “ti-ti-ti”.
During the breeding season, males defend territories, chase females at top speed, sing and perform sexual displays. During the pre-copulate display, male sings while crouched and fluttering its wings rapidly. Female also sings, while is crouching too. Male fluffs its plumage and raises its shoulders, and spreads the tail, while singing. Becoming more intense, wings are more arched and shoulders more displayed. A single male may have 3 to 5 females or more, behaviour which allows more chances of successful nesting. Red-winged Blackbird is one of the most highly polygamous of all species.

Males defend their territories surveying from a high perch, and flying after intruders, displaying their red wing-patches. They may attack horses and people.
However, Red-winged Blackbird is gregarious, sharing winter roosts with other species, forming huge congregations of several millions birds.

Red-winged Blackbird is able to fly at up to 48 km per hour. They have an up and down flight pattern. It is a strong flier, migrating in large flocks, and travelling great distances between roosting and foraging areas each day.

Female lays 3 to 7 pale blue green eggs, spotted with dark brown and purple. Incubation lasts about 11 to 13 days, by female alone. Young are altricial. She also broods the young and feeds them with insects and their larvae.
Male may help to feed young of its primary mate, but the others don’t get any help from it.
Young leave the nest at 11 to 14 days after hatching, but they remain on the territory two weeks more. They are fed by female (and sometimes male) for up to 3 weeks more after they leave the nest territory. 
This species produces normally one single brood per year, but two or three may occur.