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Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Male red-winged blackbirds are glossy black with red shoulder patches bordered in yellow. (Minette Layne/Flickr)
Male red-winged blackbirds are glossy black with red shoulder patches bordered in yellow. (Minette Layne/Flickr)

The red-winged blackbird is a black songbird with distinctive red and yellow shoulder patches. It lives in wetlands, marshes and open farm fields throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.


  • Black, sharply pointed bill
  • Medium-length tail
  • Adult males are glossy black with red shoulder patches bordered in yellow
  • Females are dull brown with dark streaks. They often have a pale breast and pale eyebrow streaks.
  • Immature males have feathers edged in orange, and may have some yellow on their shoulders
  • Grows to about 9 inches with a wingspan of 12-16 inches


  • Lives in marshes and wetlands, including wet road sides
  • Commonly seen in open farm fields in winter
  • Often forms large flocks with other blackbird species in winter


  • Found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay region
  • One of the most abundant birds in North America


  • Generally eats whatever it can find, including snails, frogs, worms, spiders and eggs
  • Prefers insects such as flies, moths, dragonflies and butterflies in summer
  • In winter, its diet switches to plants and seeds such as corn and wheat


  • Owls, raptors and raccoons are a few of the red-winged blackbird’s predators


  • Males are easily identified in flight by their bright red and yellow shoulder patches


  • Males make a cheery, loud konk-la-ree or oak-la-ree during breeding season to draw attention to themselves and warn potential intruders

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Breeds from early spring through mid-summer. Females have 1-3 broods per year.
  • Pairs are not monogamous. Males may have up to 15 mates at one time.
  • Nests in cattail reeds or bushes near water. The female weaves a deep, basket-like nest from plant material.
  • Females lay 3-5 eggs, which they incubate for up to 11 days
  • Males guard the nest with loud calls and displays, or by chasing other male birds away. They can spend more than one-quarter of daylight hours defending their territory.
  • Young are dependent on females for five weeks after they leave the nest
  • Usually lives for about two years in the wild. The oldest recorded red-winged blackbird was 20 years old.

Other Facts:

  • Males can puff up or hide their scarlet and yellow shoulder patches

Sources and Additional Information:

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