Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Order:
Passeriformes
Family:
Icteridae
Sections
  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 28, 2019
  • Ken Yasukawa and William A. Searcy
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Red-winged Blackbird, Abundance map
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Data provided by eBird

Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Abundance

This map depicts the seasonally-averaged estimated relative abundance, defined as the expected count on a one-hour, one kilometer eBird Traveling Count conducted at the ideal time of day for detection of that species in a region.  Learn more

Relative abundance
birds per km/hr
Year-round
0.15
6.35
92,951.33
Breeding season
May 3 - Aug 3
0.15
6.35
92,951.33
Non-breeding season
Dec 14 - Jan 25
0.15
6.35
92,951.33
Pre-breeding migratory season
Feb 1 - Apr 26
0.15
6.35
92,951.33
Post-breeding migratory season
Aug 10 - Dec 7
0.15
6.35
92,951.33
Note: Seasonal ranges overlap and are stacked in the order above; view full range in season maps.
Seasons timeline
Learn more
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Male Red-winged Blackbird.

The Red-winged Blackbird is a widely distributed, geographically variable, and sexually dimorphic blackbird. Males in definitive plumages are glossy black with epaulets (upperwing lesser and median coverts) of red bordered with yellow on the wrist (bend) of wing, though males in some populations lack the yellow border.

© Charles Shields , Illinois , United States , 17 February 2017
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Female Red-winged Blackbird.

Females are mottled brown above and heavily streaked below with a prominent pale eyebrow stripe. Females in definitive plumages have distinct orange epaulets and variable peach coloration to throat and sides of the head.

© Darren Clark , Idaho , United States , 9 April 2019

The Red-winged Blackbird is among the most abundant and commonly studied birds of North America. Since Arthur Allen's (1) ground-breaking study, an extensive ornithological literature has been produced on this species (e.g., 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

The Red-winged Blackbird is widely distributed, breeding in open wetland and upland habitats from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast, from southern Alaska and central Canada south to Costa Rica, the Florida Keys, and the Bahamas. Although primarily associated with large freshwater marshes and prairies, it also nests in small patches of marsh vegetation associated with lakes, ponds and roadside ditches, saltwater and brackish marshes, rice paddies, hay fields, pasture land, fallow fields, suburban habitats, and even urban parks. This blackbird migrates to and from the northern portions of its breeding range, but some populations in the western United States and Gulf Coast are resident year-round, as are populations in Middle America and the Bahamas.

Although the Red-winged Blackbird exhibits geographic variation in size, adults of all populations are sexually dimorphic in size, plumage, and behavior. The male is larger, possesses the more conspicuous definitive plumage, and is more conspicuous in behavior than the female. In addition to its striking sexual dimorphism, the Red-winged Blackbird is also known for its polygynous social system. Up to 15 females have been observed nesting on the territory of a single male, making it one of the most highly polygynous of all bird species. Several molecular studies have shown, however, that territory owners do not necessarily sire all of the nestlings on their territories, which demonstrates that females, as well as males, copulate with more than one partner during a breeding season and even for a single nesting attempt. The species is therefore genetically polygynandrous.

The Red-winged Blackbird is also known for its membership in huge, mixed-species roosts that form during the nonbreeding season and for its ability to damage important crops such as corn, sunflower, and rice. Considerable effort, time, and money have been spent attempting to control blackbird roosts and to reduce crop damage. As a result of such direct control measures, humans are an important source of adult mortality in this species. Population control, habitat loss, and changes in land-use and climate have resulted in a substantial decline in the continental population since 1970.

Recommended Citation

Yasukawa, K. and W. A. Searcy (2019). Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.rewbla.02