About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Red-winged Blackbird facts

I hope this is not a bother, but you seem to be somewhat of an expert on Red-winged blackbirds through a blog I was reading and I wanted to share a story and ask a couple of questions. 

I live in far-northern Illinois (just south of Lake Geneva, WI) and my wife and I have developed somewhat of a relationship with a specific red-winged blackbird over the past 2 years.  At least we think it's the same one.....

Last year (2010) was our first year living here and I noticed a certain RW blackbird hanging out on our deck quite a bit starting in late-March, 2010.  Every time we would go out, he would caw at us from about 10 feet.  About mid-July, we started setting out food in a biredfeeder placed right next to my deck.  He would eat it all of the time (along with a number of mourning doves and one annoying chipmunk). I noticed he disappeared around the middle of August last year.  

This year, he can back again on March 19.  I am convinced he was the same RW blackbird because his caw was exact and his mannerisms were the exact. He was not afraid of humans and allowed us to approach him up to a few feet. Is this even possible that the same bird would remember to migrate to the exact same place in consecutive years. 

As the summer went on, the bird actually learned to sit outside of our window every morning between 5am and 5:30am when the birdfeeder was empty and caw until we woke up and refilled it.  We intentionally started not refilling the birdfeeder at night because my wife and I found this 'relationship' we had developed with the bird very amusing.  Every morning since mid-April, when I would refill the birdfeeder every morning, he would hover over my head until I was finished.  He even touched my head on a couple of occasions. As soon as I was done, I would take one step back and he would be right there eating, within arms length.

I even noticed, on a couple of occasions, him feeding another bird that appeared to have a physical ailment after visiting the birdfeeder. I am assuming it was one of his offspring. 

It's currently August 8 and our RW blackbird has been gone since about mid-July. It seemed a little early in the year for him to leave, compared to last year, but perhaps this is normal? Other RW blackbirds still come around occasionally, but they don't look or have the same reactions. If he is still alive, what are the chances he comes back for the 3rd consecutive year, next year? 

Hopefully this wasn't too much of a bore to read.  I just have never viewed birds as the type of animal that you could communicate with, until now, even if it is a little primitive.  I have been fascinated with the whole experience. Thanks.

Lots of people enjoy a relationship with their outdoor “pet” birds, me included. The best part of working at Wild Birds Unlimited is talking with people that are fascinated by nature. And you had some very good observations and questions.

Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most studied birds in North America. They can potentially be a “pest” to farmers, so studies of their movements throughout the year are very important.

In the north eastern and mid-western states the annual cycle of the Red-wing was divided into five seasonal periods:
1. Reproductive (~May-Aug),
2. Post-reproductive (~August-mid-Oct.),
3. Fall migration (~mid-Oct.-Dec.),
4. Winter roost (~Dec-Feb), and
5. Spring migration (~Feb.-Apr.).

Red-winged Blackbird female
There is limited movement during the reproductive period and so the same male could have been feeding at your table. Males can have several mates in a territory that is approximately 2,000 square meters. Strong female mates do most of the nesting and child rearing by themselves. If the female is killed or inexperienced the male can take on more of the duties.

Red-wings do return to breed at or near the same hatching or nesting site every year. Then once they are done nesting, they begin to wander and form large flocks in preparation for migration.

In the wild, a Red-winged Blackbird's lifespan averages 2.14 years, but the oldest red-winged recorded was 15 years 9 months old. I hope your clever bird lives a long, healthy life.

Thanks for writing. More information can be found at the sources below.
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