The Bird Corner

Red-winged blackbird

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 10:45am

Block Island has always been a wonderful spot to go birding, not only because the island is an important stopover during migration, but due to the many species that live here.

At the Block Island School, we are following the tradition started by Elizabeth Dickens, who began the bird program at the School in the early 1900s. We are grateful to Kim Gaffett for continuing it.

Each year, Mrs. Szabo includes a bird unit in her fourth grade class, and asks her students to choose a bird they think will best make the “Block Island Bird of the Year.” Through nature walks, bird banding with Miss Gaffett, and research, each student chose a bird they believe best represents Block Island.

This is the fifth in a series.

Did you know that red-winged blackbird flocks can contain several million birds during the winter? Each morning the roosts spread out and travel as far as 50 miles to feed and then return to the very large flock at night. This is just one of the amazing facts I learned when researching the red-winged blackbird, but there are so many more!

The red-winged blackbird is a stocky broad shouldered bird with a beautiful red patch, trimmed in yellow, on its wings. The red-winged blackbird, or agelaius phoenicus, is between seven to nine-and-a-half inches tall. Its wingspan is 13 inches wide and it weighs about 1.8 ounces. They have a long tail and a stocky body with rounded wings. They have sharp pointed beaks. The males are glossy black with red shoulder patches and yellow trim, while the females and the young are more brown with streaks. Their sharp pointed beaks are helpful for digging worms and grubs and it also helps while eating insects. The red-winged blackbirds diet is seeds, insects, fruit and berries, grains, and spiders.

Although small, the red-winged blackbird is very bold. With help, it will attack a much larger bird such as a hawk or crow getting close to their nest. They nest in wet, marshy or brushy habitat and build their nest close to the ground . Their nests are made by weaving a cup of grass onto reeds or a bush. They have three to five pale blue green eggs with brown spots and the incubation is 10 to 12 days. The young birds leave the nest two weeks later after being cared for by the female. A pair of red-winged blackbirds can raise two to three broods in a season. They live year-round in most states of North America but only live in the northeast in the spring and summer. They live in southern states in winter. Males migrate north first, then females follow weeks later. Their noise of “conk-a-ree” is one of the first sounds of spring made by the males. They can gather in large flocks along with grackles and cowbirds. When males can’t find a mate they gather up in bachelor flocks and wait for next year. The male red-winged blackbirds are very bold and protective over their family and nests.

There are so many interesting things about red-winged blackbirds! I would recommend that anyone interested in birds should take the time to learn more about them. Even by just observing their behavior and beauty, you will see what wonderful creatures they are. If you visit Block Island you have a great chance of seeing one yourself.