Red-Winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

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Photo of a male red-winged blackbird singing
Male red-winged blackbirds are all black, with a bright red shoulder patch bordered with yellow.
MDC Staff
Family

Icteridae (New World blackbirds, orioles, meadowlarks) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Male is all black, with a bright red shoulder patch bordered with yellow. Sometimes the shoulder patch is concealed. Upperparts of female are dark brown with light streaks on back and head, and a light eyebrow. Underparts are whitish with heavy brown streaks; sometimes there is orange or pinkish on the throat and shoulders. Young males resemble females but have an orange-red shoulder patch. Song is a loud “konk-o-REEE,” with an accent on the last syllable. Call is a sharp “steek” or “chack.”

Size

Length: 8¾ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of female red-winged blackbird
Red-Winged Blackbird (Female)
Female red-winged blackbirds are dark brown with light streaks above, with a light eyebrow, and whitish with heavy brown streaks below.

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Photo of female red-winged blackbird on nest
Red-Winged Blackbird Female On Nest
Red-winged blackbird nests are positioned in vegetation over or near water.

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Photo of red-winged blackbird nest with eggs
Red-Winged Blackbird Nest With Eggs
Red-winged blackbirds commonly have 2 or 3 broods in our state, beginning in mid-April.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Photo of a male red-winged blackbird singing
A recording of a red-winged blackbird's song.
Habitat and conservation

Marshes, moist grasslands, wet roadside ditches, and borrow pits along highways. Often present in large flocks in crop fields in late summer and fall. During migration and in winter, roosts at night in cattails and other tall emergent marsh vegetation, or with other blackbirds in tree roosts that may include millions of individuals. Some believe this might be the most abundant bird in North America.

Foods

Forages for seeds and insects in marshes, wetlands, and other moist places.

image of Red-Winged Blackbird distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common permanent resident, widespread and abundant.

Life cycle

Breeds in brush, aquatic vegetated areas by rivers, ponds, and swamps. They nest both over water or in grasslands, but where they occur with yellow-headed blackbirds, the red-winged blackbirds are forced to nest in shallow water areas or terrestrial locations. Nests are of woven sedge and grass lined with fine grass and rushes, in vegetation. A clutch is usually 3–4 eggs, which hatch after 10–12 days. Fledging occurs 11–14 days later. Commonly 2 or 3 broods in our state, beginning in mid-April.

Human connections

This easily recognized, abundant and conspicuous bird is appreciated even by casual birders. It is fascinating to watch males display their colorful shoulders and defend their marsh nesting territories.

Ecosystem connections

Marshes and other wetlands are notorious for the “bugs” they harbor, but red-winged blackbirds help keep the populations of insects in check. As seed-eaters, this species also aids in the dispersal of various plants.