by Larry Czajkoski
Although the Olympic games just recently concluded, this female Red-winged Blackbird gets high marks from this judge as she does her best impersonation of an Olympic gymnast straddling two branches in a difficult and rarely tried maneuver; a gold medal performance for sure! While the male Red-winged Blackbird’s name succinctly describes its handsome plumage, the female is streaky brown overall, and confusingly sparrowlike, but the female blackbird’s longer bill helps separate them from the sparrows (which have stouter bills.) I was able to photograph this acrobatic female this past spring at the front end marsh of Morse Park Gardens in downtown Lake Lure.
The conk-a-ree call of the male red-winged blackbird fills the air over marshes and fields all across North America. As he gives this call, announcing himself loudly to rivals and potential mates alike, he spreads his shoulders in a flamboyant display showing bright red and yellow epaulets against his black wings. Nesting starts early for the red-winged blackbird, with males singing from an exposed perch on their territories as early as February in the South. Females choose a nest site on a male’s territory and build cup-shaped grass nests that are suspended from vertical supporting vegetation. Mud forms the foundation of the nest and soft grasses are the inner lining.
The Red-wing is the best known member of the blackbird family in North Carolina. It breeds in marshes throughout the state. In our Mountain region it appears to be only a summer visitor, arriving in March or April, but in the rest of the state it is found at all seasons. The Red-winged Blackbird’s diet is mostly plant matter – weed seeds, grain, sunflower seeds, and tree seeds – along with some insects, all of which are gleaned from the ground. They will also visit a variety of feeding station types for sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanuts and suet….so it’s not all that difficult to attract this beautiful and operatic (and acrobatic!) bird to your yard.