Red-winged Blackbird: The Showoff of the Wetlands

There’s something about the male Red-winged Blackbird that makes it impossible for a photographer to resist. Maybe it’s their bold contrast of glossy black feathers and vibrant red epaulets (those flashy shoulder patches). Perhaps it’s their loud, confident calls that echo across wetlands. Whatever the reason, capturing these birds in action is a true delight.

Red-winged Blackbird In Its Calling Pose
A Male Red-winged Blackbird In Its Calling Pose

Today’s photo features a male Red-winged Blackbird perched proudly on an old corn stalk at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. This isn’t just any perch, though. This is the bird striking its “peak calling pose,” wings spread wide and epaulets puffed out in all their glory. It’s a display that screams dominance and a desire to attract a mate (you can see a previous post I wrote about their displaying and calling behavior here: [Male Red-winged Blackbird’s Display and Call]).

Speaking of attracting mates, here are some fascinating facts about these flamboyant fellas:

  • Unmistakable Style: There’s no mistaking a male Red-winged Blackbird. Their glossy black plumage and bright red epaulets, trimmed with yellow, make them stand out. Interestingly, these epaulets aren’t just for show. They can puff them up to appear larger and more intimidating, or flatten them when feeling less confident.
  • Musical Territory Defense: The “conk-la-ree!” song of the Red-winged Blackbird is as recognizable as their appearance. This loud, clear call serves a dual purpose: attracting females and fiercely defending their territory during breeding season.
  • Polygynous Power Players: Male Red-winged Blackbirds are the ultimate charmers, attracting and mating with up to 15 females within their territory. Talk about keeping busy!
  • Fearless Defenders: These birds take territory defense very seriously. They spend over a quarter of their daylight hours chasing away rivals and any perceived threats, even animals much larger than themselves, like horses or even humans!
  • Sneakers and Sires: While one male might hold the territory, things get interesting when it comes to fatherhood. Studies show that in some populations, while 90% of territorial males have multiple females nesting on their turf, up to half of the chicks might not be sired by the territory holder! Seems there’s a bit of sneaking around going on in the world of Red-winged Blackbirds.
  • Early Bird Gets the Epaulets: To claim the best breeding spots, male Red-winged Blackbirds return to their territories before the females arrive, sometimes up to a month in advance. Talk about dedication (or maybe just prime real estate for showing off those epaulets).

So, next time you’re out in the wetlands and hear that unmistakable “conk-la-ree!” call, keep an eye out for a male Red-winged Blackbird in all its glory. You might just witness a true display of avian charisma!