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Red-winged Blackbird Harem

Springtime in the marsh!

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 territory and attracting a harem; she, for blending into the cattails.

Full Transcript



Red-winged Blackbird Harem

Adapted from a script by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote.

[Call of Red-Winged Blackbird]

Welcome to spring! … Let’s step into this lively cattail marsh… and surround ourselves with the sound of glossy black birds with bright red shoulder-patches. These are male Red-winged Blackbirds.

[Call of Red-Winged Blackbird; lots of ambient marsh sound]

The male brandishes his red epaulets to warn away other male Red-winged Blackbirds from his patch of cattails. At the same time, he sings to lure females into his marshy territory… many females, in fact.
While most bird species pair up and become a twosome during the spring breeding season, the Red-winged Blackbird has a different strategy. One male will claim a territory and attract up to a dozen females, to form a harem.

These females look nothing like the males. They’re smaller, with mottled brown backs and heavily streaked bellies.

Each female weaves an intricate nest, often suspended over the water. Scientists examined one nest that contained 142 cattail leaves, 705 pieces of grass, and 34 strips of willow bark.

And while she’s building that amazing nest, the male is busy fending off other males and courting more females for his harem. [Call of Red-Winged Blackbird]

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by W.W.H Gunn.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2016 Tune In to     March 2013/2016/2020     Narrator:  Michael Stein
ID # 032205RWBLKPLU  RWBL-01b-2009-03-25-

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