(Yes, Where Protecting the Nest is Concerned)
This week's post, though shorter than usual, continues our exploration of central Florida's most common LBJs. (In case you haven't yet read last week's post, LBJ is a highly technical birding term for hard-to-identify species. The literal translation is "Little Brown Jobs," and is widely used among frustrated birders everywhere.) My time today is somewhat limited, as I'm getting ready for company next week, and have the usual 6,000 things to do before they arrive, but I'll do my best to give you some pointers on another common LBJ, so you'll soon be able to call them by their correct names. Maybe. (They ARE difficult, remember.)
Male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
First up this week is the very common red-winged blackbird. Easy, you say? Sure, if you are only interested in identifying the males, in which case, you can hardly miss. A black bird. With red patches on his wings. Voila. Red-winged blackbird. But what if THIS is the bird at your feeder:
Female Red-winged Blackbird
The female of this species looks absolutely nothing like the male, with the exception of that nice, strong beak. Redwings are omnivores, so they need a beak pointy enough for catching insects or other small critters, yet sturdy enough for cracking seeds. And yes, they will come to your feeder, if you live near a place they like to hang out. (More on that shortly.) As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, red-winged blackbirds can be quite feisty when they are protecting their nests or young. They will swoop down on unwary people . . . or birds!
Even big ones like this red-tailed hawk . . .
. . . or this bald eagle.
Females will indulge in aggressive behavior, too, but not as often.
Now let's take a look at these ladies, and see how we can tell them apart from other LBJs. First, size. Males are a bit larger than the females at 7.5" to 9.5" inches. Split the difference, and consider the females as being somewhere around 8" in length. That's a good bit larger than the tiny 5" LBJs from last week. Next, notice the very heavy streaking on this bird, particularly on the breast area.
Larger size, heavy streaking.
And last, notice the heavy, light eye-stripe on the head, which is usually accompanied by a wash of orangey-red over the face, especially in the area between the beak and the eye. It's variable, true, but nearly always there to some extent, and combined with the heavy streaking and overall size of the bird, it's a pretty good way to tell what you are dealing with.
Red-winged blackbirds are year-round residents of almost all of the United States, including central Florida. They are most often found in or near fresh and saltwater marshes, sedge meadows, and croplands, such as alfalfa fields. As mentioned above, if you live near any of those areas, you are likely to have them visiting your backyard feeders. They often travel in large flocks, and will eat just about anything that doesn't eat them first. Speaking of which, those same birds of prey that redwings will chase often turn the tables, dining on these apparently tasty blackbirds. Owls, hawks, crows, ravens, and even herons will dine on both the adult and young of the species. (No wonder redwings are so aggressive when they spot raptors near their nests!)
A Nice, Side-by-Side Comparison of the Female and Male Red-winged Blackbirds.
To check out the call of the Red-Winged Blackbird, go HERE.
Next week, I'll be AWOL, enjoying nature with my 5-year-old grandson, but I'll return the following week with a couple of really tricky birds for you. Until then, why not take a ride on the Naiad, with owner and wildlife photographer Doug Little and Captain Dooley. Last week, I did myself, and we saw manatees, gators, limpkins with CHICKS, and at least three American bitterns (really tough birds to spot.) Give it a try. You're pretty much guaranteed a great tour!