Red-winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus


Red-winged Blackbird
The Red-winged Blackbird may be the most numerous North American songbird, and with the brilliant shoulder-patches and vigorous
springtime displays of the male of the species it is one of the most conspicuous. Its most common habitat is cattail marshes for breeding, and it forages in pastures and agricultural lands during winter. The "Bicolored Blackbird," male shown above, is a variant of the species found only in northern and central California, where I live, hence its disproportionate representation here; it may some day be recognized as a separate species.  Where the typical male Red-wing, shown below, has buff or yellow median coverts bordering the red lesser coverts, the Bicolored's median coverts are black; there are other differences in structure, behavior, and vocalization. Bicolored Red-wings share their range in California with the Tricolored Blackbird, a closely-related species, males of which have white median coverts, as distinguished from the Bicolored's black and the typical Red-wing's yellow or buff.


Red-winged Blackbird
The typical male Red-wing above was photographed in northeastern California, outside the range of the Bicolored within the state, which extends along the northern and central Pacific Coast eastward through the Central Valley.


Red-winged Blackbird
Female Red-wings, Bicolored above, and typical below. The Bicolored is darker
overall, with a solid chest and belly; the typical female is lighter in shade, with
distinct streaking on the underparts, and a more distinct facial pattern.


Red-winged Blackbird
The typical female above was photographed in the California central valley,
where most Red-wings are Bicolored. Typical Red-wings are not all that rare
in the Bicolored's range.


Red-winged Blackbird
Above and the three below, more Bicolored males, displaying their shoulder patches or "epaulets" as they often do in Spring, singing from a prominent perch to attract a female.


Red-winged Blackbird


Red-winged Blackbird


Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird
Two more typical males, above in Massachusetts and below (singing) in Arizona and Florida.


Red-winged Blackbird


Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird
Above and below, two more Bicolored females, showing plain or faintly striped as distinguished from boldly striped breasts, photographed near where I live in Palo Alto. The epaulets of female Red-wings can show no red, as in the Bicolored female further up the page, or, as with these two, a small amount of red. The bird above is in fresh Fall plumage, while the bird below shows worn plumage in May.


Red-winged Blackbird


Red-winged Blackbird
Two typical females, with boldly striped breasts and more contrasty face markings than the Bicolored, photographed in Texas, above, and Massachusetts, below.


Red-winged Blackbird


Red-winged Blackbird
Finally, a juvenile Bicolored, age recognizable from the fresh plumage in June; an adult would show worn feathers.