This week's BOTW isn't one bird, but two! Red-winged blackbirds and Common grackles are two of the earliest returning migratory birds to our area and serve as signs of spring.
Perhaps the most abundant bird in North America, the Red-winged blackbird is one the the earliest returning migratory birds in our area. After spending the winter in the southern part of the United States, they arrive back here in Reading from the end of February through early March. Saturday (Feb.26th), I observed a flock of 11 Red-winged blackbirds, with several of them singing.
The Red-winged blackbird is a medium-sized songbird that has a moderately long, slender bill and a medium length tail. The male is black with a bright red to reddish-orange patch on it's wings. The female is totally different appearance, looking a lot like a large, dark sparrow. It's song is a harsh, gurgling trill described as "kon-ka-reee".
Red-winged blackbirds breed in a variety of wetland and grassy areas, including swamps, marshes, meadows, and fields. The male Red-winged blackbird flashes and displays the red patches (epaulets) on it's wings to attract a mate. The males vigorously defend their territory, chasing any birds that comes into it, trying to drive them away.
About 75% of the Red-winged Blackbird diet is seeds. During the breeding season, they also eat insects, especially dragonflies, mayflies, and caddis flies as they emerge from their aquatic larval stage. In winter, grain is an important source of food, and many birds feed on corn stubble and at feedlots.
The Common grackle is a large blackbird, approximately 12 inches long with a wingspan of about 16 inches. It is an iridescent black all over with a long tail that looks keel-like in flight. It's eyes are yellow and it has a fairly long, black bill. The head, neck, and breast are a glossy, purplish-green or blue. The female is slightly smaller and less glossy than the male. It's song is a harsh, unmusical "readle-eak," like a rusty gate.
It spends the winter in southern United States and is one of the earliest returning migrant birds, often returning in March along with flocks of Red-winged blackbirds. It forages (eats) on ground, often in large flocks with other blackbirds where it will eat insects, other invertebrates, grain, seeds, acorns, and fruit. The Common Grackle is an opportunistic forager (hunter of food), taking advantage of whatever food sources it can find. It will follow plows for invertebrates and mice, wade into water to catch small fish, and sometimes kill and eat other birds at bird feeders.
The Common grackle breeds in much of central and eastern United States and Canada, living in a variety of open areas with scattered trees, including open woodland, boreal forest, swamps, marshes, agricultural areas, urban residential areas, and parks.
Photos from All About Birds and USGS.gov