people think of the American Robin as the early bird of spring, but to
me the Red-winged Blackbird is really the harbinger of the warming
season. Robins are more likely to remain in Ontario in the winter
months, and in fact I just heard of an overwintering flock of 17 north
of Perth. Only rarely does an single redwing overwinter, and then it
probably depends on bird feeders to survive.
I lived south of Ottawa I expected and usually saw the first male
redwing about March 6, followed in the next few days by more and more
arrivals. Males arrive before the females in order to establish
territories, which they will set up preferably in cattail marshes, or
along ditches, in swamps, and around ponds. The bird will announce its
territory with a ‘onk-a-lee’ or ‘konk-a-ree’ call with the emphasis on
the last buzzy syllable. A territory may be 2000 square meters and the
birds will also puff out their red shoulder markings or fly singing
their ‘onk-a-lee’ song, stall the flight, raise their tails, lower
their heads, then glide to a landing. This is both to warn other males
that ‘this is my territory!’ but also to attract the females.
weeks the drab females arrive, looking more like large sparrows with
their brown, heavily-streaked plumage and seek out the males with the
best ‘real-estate’ where there are protected nest sites with a good
location for the young to survive. Usually there are several females in
a territory of a single male, but does this mean that these females are
faithful only to him or him to then - not at all! Roaming males will
mate with females in other territories.
responsibility usually ends with mating and it is up to the female to
build the nest, as well as incubate the eggs. The nest, made in one to
six days, is a well-made cup-shaped structure of marsh grasses or
cattails attached to growing vegetation or in a bush in a marsh. She
will lay 4 to 6 pale blue eggs spotted or streaked with dark brown and
purple. The female is the main provider but the male may assist with
feeding the young, who seem to know only one thing at birth - how to
open their mouths for food. Fed primarily insects and spiders, they
quickly grow and will fledge in about 14 days, but will continue to be
fed by the female for 2 to 3 weeks. At this time they look like small,
plump versions of the mother and soon join a flock of females.
Meanwhile the female may be busy with a second or third brood.
is high predation on the eggs and young, and the redwing lives in the
wild only 2.14 years on average, though one wild bird was recorded as
living 15 years and nine months. Predators include raccoons, mink,
snakes, hawks, and owls. Often they are shot, trapped or poisoned
(particularly in southern areas where the migrating birds may be
assembled in huge flocks) by farmers trying to protect their crops who
do not realize the benefit these birds give as they eat harmful
insects, and chiefly consume the grain that has fallen on the ground.
So spring IS coming and I’m watching for a robin-sized blackbird with red epaulets and listening for its calls!
Helm, in Oconto, had 3 Wild Turkeys under his feeders on Mar 7th. Share
your sightings with Jean at 268-2518, or email firstname.lastname@example.org