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Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

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Why Are Blackbirds Black?

Why are blackbirds black? One possible answer is that black is conspicuous against just about all of Nature's backgrounds. Blackbirds, like this flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, feed on the ground. Whenever a predator approaches, they take flight. Coming together... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Red-wings and Yellow-heads

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... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, nesting

Gaping Blackbirds

Gordon Orians describes an unusual adaptation in blackbirds called "gaping": "...the ability to forcibly open the bill against some pressure, so that a bird can push its bill into the base of a grass clump, and forcibly open it, which reveals the insects that may be down hidden in the base. ...... read more »

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Red-winged Blackbird Harem

As spring begins, the male Red-winged Blackbird brandishes his red epaulets to warn other males away from his patch of cattails. At the same time, he sings to lure females into his marsh...many females, in fact. One male may attract up to a dozen females. The male is dressed for defending his... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display, nesting

Blackbird Deaths Spark Concern

On January 1, 2011, residents of Beebe, Arkansas awoke to find hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds lying dead on their lawns and in the streets. Birds in a nearby roost had all taken off at 10:15 PM, when fireworks shook the windows of nearby houses. They died by colliding with wires, trees, and... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  science

Dawn in the Marsh

It's dawn in a western marsh in mid-summer, and man! Those birds are singin'! The males of more than a dozen species are staking out their territories and attracting mates. One of the noisiest of all is the Red-winged Blackbird. He sings not to attract just one mate, but to gather a whole harem!... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization

Beavers and Meadows

Viva Las Vegas -- When explorer Antonio Armijo came upon the place in 1829, he found bubbling springs, abundant beavers, and grassy beaver meadows. No casinos. Armijo named the site Las Vegas – Spanish for “the meadows.” Beavers do much to shape the natural landscape. They fell trees along creeks... read more »

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Voices and Vocabularies - The Basics

Birds’ voices invite us to step into nature and learn more about the singers. Hearing what’s distinctive in one bird’s voice — compared to another — helps us identify our avian neighbors without seeing them. Amazing!  The differences between the songs of three marsh-dwellers: the brassy... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching by ear, sound

Why Should You Care About Birds?

Gordon Orians, BirdNote science advisor and blackbird expert, believes we should appreciate nature “simply because of its intrinsic wonder.” He says, “Often people would ask me, 'What good are blackbirds?’ and I would sometimes answer by saying, 'Well, what good is a symphony orchestra?' It turns... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, reflection, science

What's Different this Year? We Ask Listeners

BirdNote asked our Facebook fans about the birds they observed in their yards this spring. Some people say they have more birds. Others say fewer. And why? Changes in habitat mean changes in species. In one person’s yard on San Juan Island, in Washington State, more trees mean more Barred Owls.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  backyard sanctuary, gardening

Blackbirds' Strange Music

Blackbird songs have a strange music. The Red-winged Blackbird can be heard in nearly every marsh on the continent — bold, brassy, and piercing. The songs may not seem musical, but they definitely get your attention. Brewer’s Blackbirds, which live in open habitats like farms and grasslands, make... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  vocalization
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