March 21, 2013

Red-winged blackbirds have returned

Along with the Turkey vulture and the two note call of the Chickadee the arrival of Red-winged blackbirds kicks off spring in all its sweet air, receding snow, and drip filled ponds. Red-wing blackbirds are common across North America and are symbolic of pond and marsh. In the eastern U.S. Red-wing blackbirds winter in large mixed species flocks with Common grackles, Brown-headed cowbirds, Rusty blackbirds, and often European starlings. Found year round as close as New Jersey the arrival of these noisy blackbirds to New England is a sure sign of spring.  

Red-winged blacbirds are aptly named for the well known red “epaulets”, a band of deep red feathers moving to bright orange and fading into yellow. Only the male blackbirds have epaulets and can flare them out when courting a female or announcing territory. The female Red-winged blackbirds are carefully camouflaged in cream and brown stripes making them all but disappear in the reeds and bull rushes in which they nest. Seeing a female red-winged blackbird can be a puzzling event for beginner birdwatchers. In these March days visit any local marsh, pond, or wetland and listen for the distinct, “conk-a-reeeee” song of the newly returned blackbirds, it’s a song that will fill up the warming air all summer long.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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