Category   Birds of BC: Red-Winged Blackbird
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Red-winged Blackbird
Agelaius phoeniceus

The 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.

Many people 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 from vegetation.

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.

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