Field Studies You Can Try

If red-winged blackbirds nest near you, here are some field observations you can make. But only do this BEFORE redwings actually start nesting. Once they are feeding babies, it's best to leave them alone to take care of their young.

  • Listen to the Red-winged Blackbird's Song
    Wait for download; 130 K file.
    Courtesy of Lang Elliott

    Males display their red wing patches in territorial displays. Visit a Red-winged Blackbird territory each day at about the same time (early morning or late afternoon), choose one nearby male and count the number of times he displays in a 10 minute period. Find him each day (he'll be in the same area) and count his displays for 10 minutes each day. Graph this number for as many days as you can over the next few weeks. You'll know the females have arrived when these territorial displays intensify. Females look completely different from males--more like large sparrows.

    Male Red-winged Blackbird
    Photo Courtesy Peter S. Weber

    Female Red-winged Blackbird
    Photo Courtesy Jim Stasz
    Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter.

  • Red-winged Blackbirds SEE RED. If you can visit a place where red-wings nest, try wearing different clothes to see if it makes a difference. One day wear bright red and see if a bird displays more or is even attracted to you. One spring a Red-winged Blackbird even attacked a Journey North writer's bike helmet that had red stripes!

  • Red-wing Blackbird Action Figure lurks in a tree.

    For a fun class experiment, students can make Red-winged Blackbird "action figures" out of paper mache', old socks, wadded up paper, or whatever other materials you can think of. Make each one black, with red patches, and tie each one on its own branch. Then take a hike to the edge of a nearby Red-winged Blackbird display area and set them out in a long line.
  1. Do real redwings approach these models?
  2. Do they attack any of them?
  3. How realistic do the models have to be to attract redwings?
  4. When you have one or two successful "models," try covering up the red patches and see what the redwings do.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds watch for crows. When you're looking at redwings, watch for any crows flying overhead. If redwings see a crow, what do they do? Why do you think they do this?