Blackbirds belong to the family Icterinae, whose members live exclusively on the American continent. Of the 95 species included in this family, 23 breed in North America. Red-winged blackbirds are one of the more conspicuous and vocal birds in coastal areas. Males are easily identified by glossy black plumage and a bright red shoulder patch with a yellow stripe. Females are less ornate, with dark brown plumage and a pink-reddish tinge on the chin and neck. Young are similar in appearance to females with heavy, dusky brown streaks. Red-winged blackbirds are small birds, measuring approximately 23 cm (9 in) in length.
Habitat and Biology
Red-winged blackbirds reside year-round in most of the continental United States except for the far northern areas. They prefer riparian habitats such as fresh and saltwater marshes and open fields, both of which are common in South Carolina coastal areas.
Pairs of red-winged blackbirds typically raise two to three broods during the breeding season, which extends from April to June in South Carolina. Females construct a saucer-shaped nest from grass, rushes, and sedges. Nests are usually located in shrubby bushes near water. Two to six eggs, pale-blue and scrawled with dark brown or purple, are incubated by the female for 10-12 days. Young blackbirds fledge 11-14 days after hatching. After the breeding season, males and females gather in separate flocks reported to number in the millions; hence their genus, Agelaius, meaning "gregarious." Red-winged blackbirds favor seeds, grasses, and insects as their diet.
Bull, J. L. and J. Farrand, Jr. 1995. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Eastern Region. The Audubon Society field guide series. Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, NY.
Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook: A field guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
National Geographic Society. 1987. Field guide to the birds of North America. Second edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC.
Sprunt, A., Jr. and E. B. Chamberlain. 1970. South Carolina bird life. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC.