The melting snow, the cleansing rains and the sweet smell of spring in the air followed by the garden waking up, the buds popping and the faces of old friends flying home to nest is always exciting. When you hear the loud konk-a-ree or ogle-reeeeeee you know it’s mid-March and the male Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived in mid-Michigan. The females will arrive a little later.
The male Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus is an all black bird with red shoulder patches edged in yellow. The female and juvenile have heavily streaked underparts and mottled brown upperparts.
They most often settle in marshes and brushy meadows during the breeding season and feast on insects, including dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, butterflies and moths mostly. They often use a feeding technique known as gaping. They expose insects that are hiding under sticks and stones or in the bases of leaves by forcibly spreading open their bills. If no bugs are available in early spring they may initially frequent your feeder where they will look for suet, mealworms, nuts, or sunflower seeds.
Interestingly, the Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species. They have been observed to have as many as 15 females nesting in the territory of a single male. On average, a single male has roughly five females in its territory. Once he is done wooing the females, over a quarter of the male’s time is spent vigorously defending his territory from other males and predators.
Meanwhile the female Red-winged Blackbirds start building a nest among cattails in four stages. Initially they weave together several supporting pieces of vegetation and then intertwine the walls of the nest onto these supports. The nest cup is then lined with mud, and the final step is to line the nest with a layer of fine grasses.