04/25/2022 by Rebecca Hardy 0 Comments
The Red-Winged Blackbirds of Ayers Creek
Red-Winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus, meaning “scarlet flock member” are one of the most abundant and boldly colored birds occurring year-round in North America. These birds are frequent visitors to Ayers Creek.
Red-Winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus, meaning “scarlet flock member” are one of the most abundant and boldly colored birds occurring year-round in North America. These birds are quite frequent to visiting Ayers Creek. You may have seen them take flight in the masses coming off from the thickets of Phragmites lining a good portion of our Forested Wetland towards the headwaters of Ayers Creek.
Mature males are stocky and broad-shouldered black birds that have scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches they can puff up or hide depending on how confident they feel. Females however are a subdued, streaky brown, comparable to a large brown sparrow, brown and heavily streaked overall with a yellowish wash around their bill. Both male and females have conical shaped bills. Their early and tumbling conk-la-lee songs are joyous indications of Springs return.
Red winged blackbirds are an extremely polygynous species. Males have many female mates, up to 15 in some cases! These males take protecting their territory very seriously, often chasing off larger predators near their nesting sites with no problem. These birds form in the masses during the winter months, forming large flocks in marshy areas often combining with several other blackbird, grackle, cowbird and starling species in the thousands and sometimes millions range. The phrase there is safety in numbers stands to be true in this case. Due to many males being around during breeding season, it has been noted in several studies that the difference between populations match more to their different environments compared to different genetic makeup. This means that chicks can grow to resemble their foster parents or whoever helps raise them compared to who they are genetically endowed to.
The Red-Winged Blackbird’s diet consists of 75% insects and seeds with the occasional berry and small fruit in the spring and summer months. Males spend most of their time perched on high perches where they can scan watch over their territories. While the females are more aground collecting and foraging for nesting materials in marshes, brushy swamps and hayfields. Females build their nests low in the marsh vegetation and shrubs close to the ground or water surface in dense grass like vegetation. The Red-Winged Blackbird is one of the few native species to have embraced the exotic and invasive Phragmites for nesting sites. With the Phragmites offering safety and security for harboring her eggs. Her clutch size is typically 2-4 eggs about 2.2cm long and 1.6cm wide that reflect a pale blue-green to grey hue with black and brown markings. She incubates them solo for 11-13 days, whereas both male and female nestle them for 11-14 days before they fledge. The oldest recorded Red-winged Blackbird was 15 years, 9 months old and found in New Jersey.
Take a guided-eco tour with one of our kayak guides through our Forested Wetlands toward the headwaters of Ayers Creek and they will be sure to point out some spots these birds like to perch, nest and roost. Perhaps you’ll even be lucky enough to see a flock of them take flight from the sedges and grasses lining the creek.
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