Kon-ka-reeeee rings out over the marsh and perched on top of a cattail sits a glossy black bird with red and yellow shoulder patches, puffed up to show his confidence in defending his territory. Meet the Red-winged Blackbird, abundant across North America, and found year-round across most of the US, including Western Washington. During breeding and nesting seasons, these gregarious blackbirds are found in marshes or wetland areas that provide dense vegetation, such as cattails, bullrushes, and similar grasses. Female Red-winged Blackbirds more subdued in their coloring, with some yellow around the throat area, are often mistaken for a large, streaky brown, sparrow.
Females select the nest site and weave a base or platform amongst dense upright vegetation using stringy plant materials. Once the base structure is completed, she uses mud to build a cup which she lines with fine dry grasses. Red-winged Blackbirds do not form single pair bonds, but rather a single male will defend nests of multiple females within his territory, even though not all of the offspring are fathered by the territorial male. One or two broods are raised during the season (2-4 eggs are laid; 11-13 days incubation; 11-14 days nestling).
Red-winged Blackbirds consume copious amounts of insects during nesting season and will also eat suet if they have access to a feeder. Sunflower seeds and waste grains are popular food items. During non-breeding season, flocks numbering in the thousands or even millions, will congregate with grackles, starlings, and cowbirds. Agricultural fields, pastures, and grasslands are favorite habitats during the fall and winter.
Photo: Red-winged Blackbird (male) by Joe Halton