Photo: G. Lasley/Vireo

Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Among our most familiar birds, Red-wings seem to sing their nasal songs in every marsh and wet field from coast to coast. They are notably bold, and several will often attack a larger bird, such as a hawk or crow, that flies over their nesting area. The red shoulder patches of the male, hidden under body feathers much of the time, are brilliantly displayed when he is singing. Outside the nesting season, Red-wings sometimes roost in huge concentrations.
Conservation status Abundant and widespread.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Breeds in marshes, brushy swamps, hayfields; forages also in cultivated land and along edges of water. Breeds most commonly in freshwater marsh, but also in wooded or brushy swamps, rank weedy fields, hayfields, upper edges of salt marsh. Often forages in other open habitats, such as fields and mudflats; outside the breeding season, flocks gather in farm fields, pastures, feedlots.
Among our most familiar birds, Red-wings seem to sing their nasal songs in every marsh and wet field from coast to coast. They are notably bold, and several will often attack a larger bird, such as a hawk or crow, that flies over their nesting area. The red shoulder patches of the male, hidden under body feathers much of the time, are brilliantly displayed when he is singing. Outside the nesting season, Red-wings sometimes roost in huge concentrations.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • immature male (1st summer)
  • adult male, displaying
  • adult female, displaying
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while walking on ground; also sometimes up in shrubs and trees. Outside the breeding season, usually forages in flocks, often associated with other blackbirds and starlings.


Eggs

3-4, rarely 2-6. Pale blue-green, with markings of black, brown, purple concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female only, 10-12 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest about 11-14 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest about 11-14 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Feeds on many insects, especially in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and others; also spiders, millipedes, snails. Majority of adult's annual diet (roughly three-fourths) is seeds, including those of grasses, weeds, and waste grain. Also eats some berries and small fruits.


Nesting

To defend his territory and attract a mate, male perches on high stalk with feathers fluffed out and tail partly spread, lifts leading edge of wing so that red shoulder patches are prominent, and sings. Also sings in slow, fluttering flight. One male often has more than one mate. Adults are very aggressive in nesting territory, attacking larger birds that approach, and loudly protesting human intruders. Nest: Placed in marsh growth such as cattails or bulrushes, in bushes or saplings close to water, or in dense grass in fields. Nest (built by female) is bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, reeds, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Present throughout the year in many areas. In the north, migrants appear quite early in spring, with males arriving before females. Migrates in flocks.

Help this bird. Donate today
Migration

Present throughout the year in many areas. In the north, migrants appear quite early in spring, with males arriving before females. Migrates in flocks.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A rich, musical o-ka-leeee!
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.