Saturday, June 7, 2014

Red-winged Blackbird Babies

Too young to do anything but beg for bugs, four baby Red-winged Blackbirds responded to my camera’s click when I took their picture.  Expecting food at the sound, they rose up in unison, but sank sadly when they realized I was not their mother…not bearing food…not going to feed them. 

The mother Red-winged Blackbird waited well away with a beak full of bugs, as she did not want to draw attention to her secret nest.  She was just waiting for me to go away.   

Not wanting to keep her from her nestlings, I obliged...stepped back...she moved in. 

She approached the nest horizontally, hopping through the cattail reeds, just inches above the waterline, intent on concealing its exact location. She popped up at the last moment, delivered the food and quickly left again.

Nestlings are vulnerable and nest robbers can be anywhere.  Predators could be watching her comings and goings, so this tactic should confuse or defuse a threat to her brood.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds hold territories and defend them tenaciously.  
A male Red-winged Blackbird may have a couple to as many as 10-15 females in his territory.  He will be quick to turn on and give chase to any Red-winged Blackbird intruding in his space.

With scolding, screeching calls he will hover over a dog, a person or even a cow in defense of his territory.  He is vigilant and insistent that intruders leave.  He’s willing to make contact with that individual if they don’t…drawing blood.

Territorial males spend a large portion of their day just standing guard and intercepting intruders and interlopers.  

Interestingly, genetic testing has shown he may not be the father of all the young in his territorial nests.

Outsider males may have sired a quarter to a half of the nestlings under his protection.

Males don’t provide much food for the nestlings, that is the female’s duty, but he seems to provide training to the adolescent birds by coaching them on where to find food.  When an adolescent bird shivers its wings rapidly, still demanding food, the male  encourages and escorts the youngster to hunt for themselves.

Meanwhile, hunger grows at an 
ever-increasing pace with the 
ever-growing youngsters...

…as she struggles to deliver three meals to four babies.


The Sibley Guide to Birds Second Edition
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds