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This Week’s Creature Feature: The Red-winged Blackbird

This common bird has an attitude

       Early each morning spring, summer or fall, in marshes all over the United States, male red-winged blackbirds sing their hearts out, telling all what piece of the ground they claim.
      The males guard the best area of dense reeds for nesting. If they are lucky, multiple females will agree with the choice. One dominant male will try to corral and nest with up to a dozen or so females. Red-wings are one of the few songbirds that have male-dominated harems.
      The females are not too faithful, which is why red-winged blackbirds seem to be forever vocalizing, chasing each other and fighting.  
      These blackbirds are very common, probably the most common bird in North America. They frequent shoreline vegetation at ponds, streams, marshes and the seashore. The males are very distinctive with their red shoulder patches, but the females are speckled with short bars of multiple tones of brown. They eat a lot of insects in the summer.
       In the winter, behaviors change. They switch to eating grains. Fighting and bickering stops, and the birds form flocks. The flocks of thousands and thousands of birds can be a nuisance to farmers as they can quickly clean out grain fields.
      Winter flocks of blackbirds frequent the wild rice of Jug Bay and the farm fields on the Eastern Shore.
      They will come to backyard feeders in the winter, preferring cracked corn or other grains tossed on the ground.