Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

About the Bird

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Seen/Heard at
Decorah, Decorah North

Red-winged Blackbirds are omnivorous ground foragers. They eat primarily insects during the summer, occasionally supplementing their diet with seeds. They eat seeds and grain during the winter, including corn, wheat, ragweed, cocklebur, and sunflower seeds.

Red-winged Blackbirds breed from late-March through mid-August. A female Red-winged Blackbird builds her nest by winding grass and sedges around several close upright stems. She weaves the bottom from coarse vegetation and begins filling in the nest with leaves, moss, and decayed wood before plastering it with mud and lining the inside with soft grass. Red-winged Blackbirds lay two to four Pale blue-green to gray darkly-splotched eggs per clutch and may produce up to two broods per year. Females incubate eggs for 11-13 days and young stay in the nest for 11-14 days before fledging. Both parents provide parental care, although the female may do more feeding than the male. To learn more, visit Cornell’s website.

Although Red-winged Blackbirds are common in Decorah, the population has declined in Ontario and some other areas. Climate change appears to be reducing the population of red-winged blackbirds and increasing the ratio of females to males. The birds birds appear to have extended their breeding season with the warming trend. But the extension has occurred at the season’s beginning and end, when the birds’ tendency is to produce more females, not in the middle, when more males are produced. You can read more about it here:

Bird Range Maps of North America
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003.
Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA. Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy – Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International – CABS, World Wildlife Fund – US, and Environment Canada – WILDSPACE.
Web Link:
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General Description
Adult male Red-winged Blackbirds are glossy black with red and yellow shoulder patches or epaulettes. Females are mottled brown above and heavily streaked below with a prominent white eyebrow stripe and a yellowish wash around the beak.

We have a disagreement! Cornell and the Audubon website both state that the Red-winged blackbird can be found in the Decorah area year-round. But the Iowa DNR and my Audubon field guide identify it as a summer resident. That particular field guide is from 1977, so their winter range has probably shifted north since it was written. Some wintering birds may be migrants from colder northern areas.

Length: 6.7-9.1 in/17-23 cm
Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 in/31-40 cm
Weight: 1.1-2.7 oz/32-77 g

Wing Design
Elliptical. Optimized for bursts of fast, tightly controlled flight. Excellent at taking off quickly, maneuvering through branches, and avoiding predators.

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Range Map

Range Map