By Ryder Miller
Wondering where the springtime-heralding Red-winged Blackbirds are? Well, you may have already seen them. Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are sexually dimorphic– meaning the males and females do not look alike. The males are easily recognizable due to their mostly black bodies and red and yellow patches on their shoulders. However, the females look similar to sparrows. Both sexes feed mostly on seeds and insects.
It has been said that the Red-winged blackbird is the most studied and abundant bird in North America. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology posts that in 1974 their population was estimated at 190 million. In recent years, however, they have been tougher to spot due to the increase of raven and crow populations. These hungry corvids feast on blackbird nests, which are made in cattails and other wetland vegetation.
Don’t start feeling sorry for the Blackbirds yet, for they are adept protectors. They have been known to chase ravens away to protect their nests, and on occasion their kin may even attack a person to defend precious eggs.
Red-winged Blackbirds are not snobs, and they are known to mix with other blackbirds and starlings in large flocks. The males are territorial and can have many mates, and the females do not always remain exclusive either. The female Blackbirds will often raise the eggs of other males in the territory of the top social male.
While Red-winged Blackbirds prefer wetlands, they also inhabit both salt- and fresh-water marshes. One can also find them in prairies and farmlands. They are migratory birds and fly from southern Alaska to the Yucatan peninsula.
When they are in the Bay Area, one can see them in The Marin Headlands towards Rodeo Lagoon. Though not obviously so, the Marin Headlands is its own watershed of sorts– creeks drain from high to low points throughout the area. Many of the streams have been surrounded by willows and other riparian vegetation. Streams of water have carved Gerbode, Tennessee, and Rodeo Valleys. One can also find lakes and wetlands there. If you are ever out walking or hiking in these special places, make sure to keep your ears open to catch the terrific song the Red-winged Blackbird sings for his lady loves.