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Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Red-winged Blackbird Photo

One of the most abundant birds across North America, and one of the most boldly colored, the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight atop cattails, along soggy roadsides, and on telephone wires. Glossy-black males have scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches they can puff up or hide depending on how confident they feel. Females are a subdued, streaky brown, almost like a large, dark sparrow. In the North, their early arrival and tumbling song are happy indications of the return of spring.

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Songs

The male Red-winged Blackbird’s conk-la-ree! is a classic sound of wetlands across the continent. The 1-second song starts with an abrupt note that turns into a musical trill. Males often sing from a high perch while leaning forward, drooping their wings, spreading their tail feathers, and fluffing their bright shoulder patches to show them off. Females give a very different song in response to a singing male, a series of three to five short chit or check notes.

Calls

The typical call of a Red-winged Blackbird is a distinctive, matter-of-fact check that’s fairly easy to recognize. Males and females make these calls all year round, in flight and while feeding, when confronting rivals and to raise an alarm. They also give a more intense alarm call, a fast, scolding chak chak chak.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Red-winged Blackbirds may come to your yard for mixed grains and seeds, particularly during migration. Spread grain or seed on the ground as well, since this is where Red-winged Blackbirds prefer to feed.

Find This Bird

You can find Red-winged Blackbirds in the breeding season by visiting cattail marshes and other wetlands, or simply by watching telephone wires on a drive through the country. Where there’s standing water and vegetation, Red-winged Blackbirds are likely to be one of the most common birds you see and hear. Listen for the male’s conk-la-lee! song. In winter, search through mixed-species blackbird flocks and be careful not to overlook the streaky, brown females, which can sometimes resemble a sparrow.

Get Involved

Watch your feeders in winter and report your bird counts to Project FeederWatch

How Red-wings Elude Eavesdroppers

Have you seen Red-winged Blackbirds? Learn how to monitor their nests and report your observations to NestWatch

Visit eBird to explore maps and charts showing where Red-winged Blackbirds are throughout the year. Contribute your sightings!

You Might Also Like

Interpreting Red-winged Blackbird Behavior: Story in BirdScope.

All About Birds blog, Identify the Brown, Streaky, Juvenile Songbirds of Summer With These Tips, July 23, 2014.

Red-winged Blackbird from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1958)