Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Early Spring Singing: Red-winged Blackbirds

Winter conditions have grown a bit old for me here in Utah County so a  recent streak of warm weather has been more than welcomed. I've noticed that the birds are also excited by the warm streak. I heard then saw this male Red-winged Blackbird singing and flexing on his newly claimed breeding ground just as I was driving away from a visit to a local vendor yesterday. I enjoyed the moment since it was the first bird of the year that made me pause and think, "Wow. Breeding season is here already. Spring IS coming." We have Red-winged Blackbirds year round in Utah County, but they sort of fade away from the forefront of activity during the winter months. Then, just like the red and yellow shoulder patches pop from their otherwise dark body, these birds pop out from obscurity with their lively singing and colorful breeding displays. This guy was singing his love song and flexing his wings as he tucked and spread his tail feathers.

Male Red-winged Blackbird Singing and Displaying at the Beginning of a New Breeding Season in American Fork, UT
Male Red-winged Blackbirds really are strikingly handsome birds. It's always fun to have my interest in familiar birds rekindled as the seasons change. I'd spent so much time looking for and studying raptors during the winter months that I had temporarily forgotten what spring will hold in the coming months. I've stopped to listen to and watch many male Red-winged Blackbirds sing and display on their breeding territories over the past few years. They are a familiar sight in marshy areas around lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

Male Red-winged Blackbird on Phragmite at Antelope Island State Park in Davis County, UT
Male Red-winged Blackbird on Phragmite at Antelope Island State Park in Davis County, UT
Sometimes all the singing turns to screaming for these handsome blackbirds. I ran across a scene a couple of years ago that mesmerized me for about ten minutes. A large flock of blackbirds had found refuge from a terrorizing Prairie Falcon by moving as deeply as possible inside a Russian Olive Tree. The falcon was essentially harassing the blackbirds by making repeated passes through the flock. The blackbirds would move deeper into the center of the tree as the falcon passed. Hundreds of the birds were literally hiding and flying for their lives the whole time I watched. The Prairie Falcon eventually left them alone without causing any casualties.

Prairie Falcon Harassing a Large Flock of Red-winged Blackbirds in Springville, UT
I'm looking forward to another season of singing, nests, and new life as breeding season perpetuates another generation of some of nature's finest creatures. I've paid attention to the nest sites of several bird species in the past couple of years so I'm going to watch a few this year to see if they return to and use their previous nest sites. Here's to the species that was first to kick off another breeding season in my mind. I'll remember that each time I see a Red-winged Blackbird over the coming months.

Male Red-winged Blackbird on Antelope Island in Davis County, UT


  1. Sharp stuff Jeff, and that PRFA capture is terrific! Awesome post.

    1. The Prairie Falcon was quite entertaining from my perspective...felt bad for the blackbirds, however. I'm looking forward to some AZ birding in March.