Monday, August 05, 2013

Their Mamas Know They're Handsome

Red-winged blackbirds are the most common visitor we have at our feeders, but paradoxically I rarely post about them. We were visited by a gaggle of red-winged fledgelings a few days ago that inspired me to write this.

For those of you who don't live in North America and/or aren't familiar with the species I'll give a little background. Red-winged blackbirds are a very common marsh habitat species that shows a lot of sexual dimorphism in coloration. This adult male in the picture above shows their typical glossy black feathers with characteristic orange and yellow coverts.

This adult female shows the typical streaked brown colors that give her a good camouflage coat that allows her to blend in with the cattails and other marsh grasses where the birds nest and spend most of their time.

The first set of feathers that babies of both sexes get looks pretty much like the adult female, again giving them a camouflage advantage when they are just starting out. Over time, during their first year, the males have their brown feathers replaced by the black, orange, and yellow ones. The in-between situation can look sort of interesting.

Some appear more bedraggled than others, but all sport a unique look.


Steve Bodio said...

My apologies for not getting back to you on sexual dimorphism.

Almost all raptors have "REVERSE" sexual dimorphism, meaning in plain English that the females are bigger and stronger than the males. Falconers would add that human sexual stereotyping work with them too, more so than humans-- females tend to be very "macha"", even my little hybrid Peregrine.

These differences are the more pronounced the more predatory the species. Whence hangs an evo post if I can get around to it...

Anonymous said...

I love Red-Winged Blackbirds--their "Konk-A-REEEE!" call was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, growing up on a chain of several ponds in the heart of my territory. I always find it interesting how different bird calls are interpreted phonetically in different languages(sometimes spelling out actual words). In Lakota, this call of the Red-Winged Blackbird is pronounced "Po-Gay-KLEEEEE!", which in Lakota means "snotty nose"!!!!!!....L.B.

Reid Farmer said...

I agree with you, Lane, it was part of my childhood, too, growing up in the rice-cultivating country of east Arkansas.

Back there, "rice bird" is a common name for them.

We've sure been able to expand their habitat for them, haven't we?

Reid Farmer said...

No problem, Steve.

I actually remembered the term, but wasn't sure if it applied to color differences as well as size differences. I straightened myself out with an ornithology textbook I bought at Goodwill for 99 cents a few months ago.