DH2 and the Red-Winged Blackbird

We think we saw DH2 soaring over the hatchery on Saturday, July 22nd, although the eaglet was missing its red-winged blackbird escort, so we can’t be entirely certain. Male red-winged blackbirds are very territorial and we often see them harass eagles, including Mom, Dad, DM2, HD, and HM and many of the 40 eaglets produced on the hatchery territory. But this year’s level of attention has been unique!

We don’t think this video shows interspecific allopreening, which has only been documented in a handful of bird species, none of them involving raptors. The adult male red-winged blackbird is giving what sounds like a warning vocalization and doesn’t appear to be eating insects after pecking at DH2’s feathers. Nor is DH2 soliciting preening. We’ll let everyone know if this is anything other than an OCD extension of typical red-winged blackbird territorial aggression!

Red-winged blackbirds are one of the few species that engages in interspecific allopreening, although it has only been documented in females and between closely-related species that flock together: https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v083n02/p0179-p0180.pdf. Perhaps drought and heat stressors are escalating a normal behavior (territoriality) into an unusual behavioral syndrome. Climate change has already impacted reproductive timing and the number of offspring that some bird species produce. Perhaps it affects non-reproductive behavior as well.