Red-Winged Blackbird
Agelaius phoeniceus
Population size
Life Span
2-16 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a passerine bird found in North America and Central America. Claims have been made that it is the most abundant living land bird in North America; bird-counting censuses of wintering Red-winged blackbirds sometimes show that loose flocks can number in excess of a million birds per flock and the full number of breeding pairs across North and Central America may exceed 250 million in peak years. It also ranks among the best-studied wild bird species in the world.


The common name for the Red-winged blackbird is taken from the mainly black adult male's distinctive red shoulder patches, or epaulets, which are visible when the bird is flying or displaying. At rest, the male also shows a pale yellow wingbar. The spots of males less than one-year-old, generally subordinate, are smaller and more orange than those of adults. The female is blackish-brown and paler below. The upper parts of the female are brown, while the lower parts are covered by an intense white and dark veining; also presents a whitish superciliary list. According to Crawford (1977), females exhibit a salmon-pink stain on the shoulders and a light pink color on the face and below this when they are a year old, while older females show a stain usually more crimson on the shoulders and a darker pink hue on and under the face. The colored area on the wing increases in surface with the age of the female and varies in intensity from brown to a bright red-orange similar to that of the males in their first year. Young birds resemble the female, but are paler below and have buff feather fringes. Both sexes have a sharply pointed bill. The tail is of medium length and is rounded. The eyes, bill, and feet are all black. Unlike most North American passerines which develop their adult plumage in their first year of life so that the one-year-old and the oldest individual are indistinguishable in the breeding season, the Red-winged blackbird does not. It acquires its adult plumage only after the breeding season of the year following its birth when it is between 13 and 15 months of age. Young males go through a transition stage in which the wing spots have an orange coloration before acquiring the most intense tone typical of adults.




This species inhabits Canada, south-eastern Alaska, and the United States as far as the Gulf Coast, and is also found in Central America and in the northern Caribbean islands. Populations that are most northerly migrate south after the mating season, but some of the populations in the central and western United States, Central America, and the Gulf Coast are resident year-round. In the breeding season, Red-winged blackbirds are found in a range of fresh and saltwater environments, including in small trees and bushes along marshes and watercourses, in agricultural areas, and in dry meadows. During migration, they can be found in, pastures, prairies, and cultivated fields.

Red-Winged Blackbird habitat map
Red-Winged Blackbird habitat map
Red-Winged Blackbird
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Habits and Lifestyle

As a migratory bird, a Red-winged blackbird is a strong flier that often will join a flock of more than a thousand to migrate. This species is largely diurnal, and throughout the year spends most of its day foraging and gathering into roosts. In summer months these birds congregate in wetland areas where they breed, but in winter they may roost with other birds, such groups being sometimes a few individuals or up to several million. Every morning the roosts disperse, traveling up to 50 miles to feed, then re-forming at night. These birds are active feeders, using their strong bills to open up the leaf bases of reeds and aquatic plants, or lifting sticks and stones to find hidden insects. They also eat seeds and other items off the ground and will glean insects from vegetation. They are strong fliers, with an up-and-down pattern of flight.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Red-winged blackbirds are omnivores, they mainly eat seeds, but they also feed on insects, spiders, mollusks, worms, snails, mussels, crayfish, frogs, lizards, nestlings, birds' eggs, fruit, and berries.

Mating Habits

early spring - mid-summer
11-13 days
7 weeks
3-7 eggs

Males are polygynous and will mate with several females nesting inside their territory. Some populations see 90% of territorial males with more than one female blackbird nesting in their territory. However, females may also have multiple partners, and one-quarter of the nestlings may be fathered by different males. This means that females exhibit polyandrous mating system. Prior to breeding, a male does everything he can to get noticed, perching up high, all day long singing his “conk-la-ree” song. Males may chase females with their shoulder feathers erect. Breeding starts in early spring and goes until mid-summer. These birds nest within crowded groups, low down among the vertical shoots of vegetation in the marshes, shrubs, or trees. The female builds the cup-shaped nest and lays 3 to 7 eggs of pale blue-green spotted with purple and dark brown. Incubation is by the female alone and lasts around 11 to 13 days. The young are altricial and at 11 to 14 days old, they leave the nest but remain within the territory for two more weeks. The female feeds them, sometimes helped by the male, for as long as 3 more weeks after they have left the nest territory.


Population threats

As one of North America's most common and numerous birds, not much effort is put into protecting Red-winged blackbirds from the impact of urbanization and habitat loss. Because they are able to survive in a wide range of habitats, many populations are able to cope with losses of natural terrain. However, these birds thrive in wetland areas, so with the loss of such areas, they are likely to be affected.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Red-winged blackbird population size is 210 million mature individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, the total breeding population size of the species is 130 million individuals. Overall, currently, Red-winged blackbirds are classified as Least Concern (LC), but their numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

As highly generalized foragers and predators, Red-winged blackbirds control insect populations through predation and weed populations through the consumption of seeds.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Red-winged blackbirds use their beaks to open a seed, catch a fly, spear a beetle, or crack open an acorn.
  • These birds are considered to be among the most numerous of North America's land birds.
  • Red-winged blackbirds can hop backward when foraging. This ability is called the “double scratch”.
  • During the breeding season, males fiercely defend their territories, spending over a quarter of the hours of daylight on this task. They chase other males out of their territory and attack nest predators, including much larger animals, such as horses and people.
  • One subspecies of this blackbird in California does not have yellow borders on its red shoulders and has been given the name the “bicolored blackbird.” Scientists think this difference in plumage may help these birds recognize each other in places where their range overlaps that of the similar tricolored blackbird.

Coloring Pages


1. Red-Winged Blackbird Wikipedia article -
2. Red-Winged Blackbird on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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