The Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar denizen of cattail marshes throughout Washington. In marshes east of the Cascades, Red-wings must share space with a larger cousin, the Yellow-headed Blackbird. The two species don't share evenly. Zoologist and blackbird expert Gordon Orians writes: "When Yellowheads arrive on their breeding marshes, they usually evict already established male Red-wings from their territories." Learn more about the research. Hear more blackbird songs at The Macaulay Library.
Red-wings and Yellow-heads
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
[Red-winged Blackbird song]
The Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar denizen of cattail marshes throughout Washington. Its throaty, gurgling songs ring out from late winter right through much of the summer. [Red-winged Blackbird song]
In marshes east of the Cascades, Red-winged Blackbirds must share space with a larger cousin. Here, the voice of the Red-wing [Red-winged Blackbird song] is joined by that of the Yellow-headed Blackbird. [Yellow-headed Blackbird song]
The two blackbird species don’t share evenly. Zoologist and blackbird expert Gordon Orians writes: “When Yellowheads arrive on their breeding marshes, they usually evict already established male Red-wings from their territories.” The Red-wings are relegated to the less productive, shoreward edge of the marsh. [Medley of both blackbird songs]
The clangor of the Yellow-headed Blackbird’s song elicits mixed reviews. [Yellow-headed Blackbird song] Some enjoy its guttural, clanking comedy of notes. Others find it wholly disagreeable, a disgrace to the same bird family that produces the wonderful song of the meadowlark. [Western Meadowlark song]
You’ll have to decide for yourself on the song’s merits, but it’s clear that female Yellow-headed Blackbirds find it irresistible. [Yellow-headed Blackbird song]
You can listen to these songs again—and others, too—on our web site, BirdNote.org. I’m Frank Corrado.
Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-winged Blackbird song recorded by W.W.H. Gunn. Yellow-headed Blackbird recorded by G.A. Keller. Western Meadowlark song recorded by W.R. Fish.
Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbird medley recorded by Martyn Stewart, naturesound.org
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2007 Tune In to Nature.org Revised for June 2009
Quotation from Gordon Orians. Blackbirds of the Americas. With drawings by Tony Angell. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985, p. 44.