Red-winged Blackbird is one of the most widespread species in North
America. Wherever there is a little fresh water, with some cattails
or streamside growth, Red-wings will settle in. They nest throughout
British Columbia, except in Haida Gwaii, the former Queen Charlotte
Islands, but are most abundant in the southern half of the province.
Most birds are migratory, but in the Puget Sound Lowland, good numbers
stay year-round. In areas where they do migrate, the males appear
first, with the females arriving later.
cannot imagine learning to identify birds by their songs. But most
people already know at least one: the song of the Red-Wing. It's
a raucous konk-la-ree that carries an amazing distance, and it is
familiar to most North Americans. Red
Wings build deep cup nests, woven neatly of grasses, and suspended
While they are not strictly speaking colonial, they do segregate
themselves from the equally striking Yellow-headed Blackbirds of
the British Columbia interior. Juvenile birds are fed a diet almost
exclusively made up of insects; at other times of the year, seeds
and grain make up a large part of the diet. A large flock of blackbirds
descending on an agricultural field can do considerable damage.
Adult male Red-wings
are very distinctive, with bright red epaulets, edged with buff,
highlighting jet-black plumage. Sometimes the red patches are concealed,
though. Females look very different, heavily streaked all over.
Juvenile birds are similar, but as the young males mature, their
plumage changes. They go though a stage in which their feathers
are black, but confusingly tipped with buff and rust.
In the fall,
coastal birds gather in large flocks with other blackbirds, feeding
in agricultural areas. Migrant Red-wings leave the colder parts
of the province and winter further south. But when the cat-tails
start pushing verdant green shoots from last year's brown stalks,
the first konk-la-ree is not far behind.