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Saturday, 21 March 2020

Red-winged Blackbird in the manner of Arthur Cleveland Bent

     A while ago I wrote a piece (here) drawing on the very pleasing, whimsical style of Arthur Cleveland Bent, and I thought that I would try it again. It is fun to do!


Red-winged Blackbird

     A male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a jaunty, handsome fellow, full of confidence and bravado.



     His attire is splendid glossy black, with crimson epaulettes bordered with creamy yellow. A sharply conical bill is diagnostic in this species.
     As soon as he arrives back at the marshes in spring he immediately establishes a territory which he vigorously defends against all comers, both physically and vocally, his robust burble-eee song, resonating across the cattails. He is awaiting the arrival of the females, the objects of his ardour, to which he will become consort to several if the fates are kind.
     She is beautiful in her own way, with bold stripes and hints of suffused colour like delicate blush applied judiciously.



     Oh how anxiously he awaits her arrival!
     He postures and displays, showing his finery, all the while cajoling with his voice, hoping to incite her to a mating frenzy immediately she lights upon the scene.




     She does not remain immune to these entreaties and succumbs readily to his charms.



     Does she realize, however, that he is a charlatan, a veritable Casanova, bent on seducing others also? 



     She throws caution to the wind and accepts his tryst, brief though it is, and whether imbued with ecstasy or not we will never know.



     Males who are especially fit may enjoy intimate association with as many as fifteen other females, most of whom will receive no parental assistance from these ostentatious philanderers, and will be left to their own devices to raise their young. Sadly some of them will be incapable of dealing with single parenthood and will be unsuccessful, sometimes abandoning their nestlings.



     Many females, however, will deem turnabout to be fair play and solicit copulations from other males, especially strong, virile individuals able to furnish superior genes for the next generation. 
     The world of Red-winged Blackbirds is a steamy affair - not unlike human activity for that matter. Do not be confused by the demure demeanour of the female - whether bird or human!





     If all goes well the female will construct a nest, woven into cattail stalks, with little or no assistance from the male, especially if she is a subordinate female, and three or four eggs will be laid.



      The male, all the while engaged in amorous adventures with other females, will defend the territory of his harem against all comers, not fearing to attack intruders such as crows, hawks, or humans who stray too close.
     The female alone incubates the eggs for up to thirteen days following which the young hatch.



     This signals a very busy time for the maternal parent who provisions the young herself and may be constantly observed ferrying food back to the nest. While the food of adult birds consists primarily of seeds, grain and fruit, the young require protein and fat so caterpillars, spiders and arthropods are on the menu.



     Hungry mouths are clamouring to be fed; are these voracious children never  satiated?



          A mother's work is never done!




     Once the breeding season is over Red-winged Blackbirds join together in flocks, roosting at night in cattail marshes. Then numerous flocks join together, especially on their winter quarters following migration, sometimes numbering in the millions, and often including Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) and Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). 
     The Red-winged Blackbird has been studied at length, being the most abundant passerine in North America. For many its arrival on its breeding territory marks the true beginning of spring. For me that is certainly so. To hear the first one is to rejoice in being alive. Long may they grace our wetlands.

84 comments:

  1. I'm impressed. You did well.

    I saw one very briefly two days ago. Too brief for a photo.

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  2. Hari OM
    Bravo - to the author and the birds!!! &*> YAM xx

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  3. Precioso todo tu relato amigo David. Ha sido una clase magistral de un gran conocimiento sobre ese bello pájaro. No sé, si el comportamiento de ese bello Mirlo de alas rojas difiere mucho del Mirlo común que es el que conozco y veo a diario, igual tienen algún de tipo de comportamiento en común.
    Un fuerte abrazo querido amigo y profesor David.

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    1. No estan en la misma familia, amigo, Juan. Agelaius phoeniceus - Icteridae: Turdus merula - Turdidae. ,

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  4. What a fun story you have treated us today. I appreciate your efforts, kind sir! Best regards for a fun weekend, Valerie

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  5. The red winged blackbirds are a delight to see in flight. Some recently passed through our yard but they seem to have moved on. Amazing photos showing the character and life of these beauties David.

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  6. Querido David muchas gracias por tan preciosa entrada, lo narras de manera maravillosa y lo acompañas de preciosas fotos, me encanta. Un enorme abrazo, muy buena suerte y buena salud para ti y tu familia, que todo vaya bien.

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  7. David you are fantastic! Really ...
    Because of this stupid coronavirus I'm afraid to go outside and I'm sure I will miss a whole lot of spring! Thank you for these beautiful moments and gorgeous photos!

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  8. Magníficas imágenes.
    Muchas gracias por tu visita.
    Un saludo.

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  9. I am impressed with your (Your and Miriam) perfect photos. All birds are beautiful.
    Hugs.
    Stay safe and healthy!

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  10. Thanks for that fun dissertation David. I had never studied red winged blackbirds and was unaware that the female differed so drastically. Unfortunately I haven't seen one in a long while.

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    1. When this whole virus thing is over I will pick you up one day and take you to see one...or two....or ten!

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    2. I would love that, thanks

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  11. A very clear and beautiful narrative, accompanied by detailed photographs.

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  12. Absolutely stunning David, the Red-winged Blackbird are fantastic, love them.

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  13. How wonderful to get pics of those babies! We are trying to look for nests on our hikes but it's hard with all the green foliage. The female looks so different....it confused us awhile back! We've actually had a pair visit our feeders this week...first time ever! Take care of yourself!

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  14. Super cet article, j'avais repéré ce bel oiseau sur votre en tête de blog.
    Je trouve la femelle jolie aussi.
    Bonne soirée

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  15. Thanks, David, for teaching me all about ostentatious philanderers and seemingly demure females. My world will never be the same again!
    Actually your post was very informative and I loved all the photos. Stay safe :)

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  16. I am glad it was fun for you to create this gem - because it was a delight to see and read. Many thanks.

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  17. Very witty and entertaining prose, David. The dowdy little Dunnock that I showed a week or so back has a similarly steamy sex-life. No social distancing with these guys.

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    1. In the literature of ornithology the Dunnock is renowned, John! Never tell a book by its cover!

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  18. Just what we needed, David - a beautifully illustrated and informative post, written in a light-hearted and amusing style - you succeeded admirably, thank you.

    With love to you and Miriam (got it right this time!). Take great care - - - Richard

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  19. Your post on the red-winged blackbirds is delightful! I've greatly enjoyed reading about the males and females, the description of their different plumage and their breeding behavior.
    Awsome pictures!

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  20. The Red-winged Blackbird are very beautiful, David.
    You have so many different birds to show us. I'm very impressed.

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  21. What a great post, David. The bird photos are so enjoyable to see.
    Thank you!

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    1. It is a common species, Bill, but really quite spectacular.

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  22. This was a lovely read! I love it. I remember being flummoxed with IDing the female at one point.

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    1. I am sure that many have thought they were different species.

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  23. It will be another month or so before we see the blackbirds here. They are amazing birds.

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  24. My goodness! He is a rogue, isn't he? What a completely delightful post and so beautifully photographed. I'm amazed you could capture some of those. The eggs are dazzling. No dyed egg could compare. And the sweet ones in their nest. You are indeed the Bird Whisperer to capture these. The red-winged black bird is a tough one for me to photograph. They seem to move quickly, not resting too long, and because they are so dark it can be hard to catch the delineation of their features and eyes. Well done!

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  25. And, baby red wings are so helpless. They keep the deer in the headlights look longer than any other bird I can think of.

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  26. The voice of spring, but I haven't heard one yet.

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    1. There are many around now, Stew, if you are able to get to a local marsh. I have been seeing them since the last week of February. Females should be returning any time now.

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  27. Que bella es la naturaleza! Maravillosas capturas. Saludos!

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  28. Excellent description of the red winged black bird's life.

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  29. There was a pond/marsh that we passed by everyday, and we called it "red wing black bird" pond. Exquisite in spring.

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  30. Very well done. Red-winged Blackbirds are often seen at my feeders during the winter months, sometimes in mixed flocks with Brown-headed Cowbirds. In some winters, they are quite plentiful and dominate the feeders, but that hasn't been the case this winter. I find the female Red-wings as attractive as their mates, even if somewhat less colorful.

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  31. Hi David.

    Beautiful birds show you.
    Beautiful pictures you have taken ..

    Greetings from Patricia.

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  32. this is a beautiful one and I have seen it. I think it was in Costa Rica. Nice to see the "family album" :)

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    1. This species is resident in Costa Rica - a quite distinctive subspecies actually. I saw them last year at Caño Negro.

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  33. What a lovely blackbird.
    Stay safe and keep well.

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  34. Hello dear friend!!!
    Fantastic shots of this beautiful birds.. Congrats

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  35. What a beautiful bird the red-winged blackbird.
    And how beautiful it is in the picture David.
    This is enjoyment !!!
    Greetings Tinie

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  36. Gorgeous shots of birds and nests.

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  37. Great post, David! I loved all the photos, especially the babies in the nest. Take care! Enjoy your day, wishing you a great new week!

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  38. Excellent sequence of photos, especially I really like that there are also the photos of the nests. It looks a lot like Agelasticus thilius, more than anything the female, the male is similar too but the one here only has yellow in that part of the wing and covering not so much area

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  39. These jaunty guys are eating us out of house and home! They arrived a couple weeks ago hungry and still empty the suet feeder faster than we can fill it. So pretty though, especially when the flash their epaulets. I love the last picture. I think she just got out of the bath!

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  40. Hi David - I've been loving header photo - quite extraordinary birds ... such different colourations to each other: and yes I learnt (well spotted it!) 'sexual-dimorphism' as the correct term: whether I'll remember or not is another matter.

    Arthur Cleveland Bent - was some ornithologist - a set of encyclopedic 21-volumes, Life Histories of North American Birds. Amazing man - gorgeous photos, while the information is very comprehensive.

    Well done - so interesting to read - take care in these times - sounds like you're organised though - thank you - Hilary

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    1. You get full marks for knowing "sexual dimorphism" Hilary!

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  41. What a great post and I just love those fluffy little chicks. We have blackbirds in the garden here but of course not the re-winged version. I hope all is well there and that you are both staying safe. Take care, Diane

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  42. How adorable are those fuzzy little balls with mouths open. To take a note from the singing birds, to rejoice at being alive is the key for us all I think. :)

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  43. Hello David
    description and pictures at its best was fun to read the documentation and of course to look at the pictures
    stay healthy
    Regards Frank

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  44. Beautiful photos David. We don’t have the red-winged blackbird here, I think they are really eye catching.

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  45. Most enjoyable post...the descriptions, and the photos. And then the comments too! Coming late to the party does have some advantages!

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  46. One of my favorite birds. Such a joy to see your beautiful photos.

    Thanks for linking in! Your friendship & loyalty to our world's birds are very much appreciated.

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  47. Fascinada com o seu fotografar.
    De excelência.
    O que tem asas abertas e bico aberto.
    Fenomenal.
    Um abraço esvoaçante.
    Megy Maia

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  48. Este pájaro nunca lo vi por España, me parece precioso ¿ y canta bien ? Abrazos y salud querido amigo.

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    1. Its song is not especially melodic, Teresa, but it is loud and instantly recognizable.

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  49. Beautiful photos of these beautiful birds. So cute the little ones.

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  50. The females are just so different from the flamboyant males :)
    Loved the photos and your wonderful descriptions.

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  51. What a story David. It read as a exciting romantic book. What a species this is. Amazing the determination of the females to manage to bring up their young. Succesful bird despite this behaviour reading they are stil in the millions to be seen.
    Regards,
    Roos

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  52. I wish you health and all your family.

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  53. Me gusta especialmente las fotos del mirlo y la desafiante actitud de las hembras.

    Son muy buenas tus fotografías.

    Besos

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  54. Hi David,
    Some wonderful images of this colorful Male Red Winged Blackbird, also the female and young.
    Reads a bit akin to Lady Red Winged Blackbirds Lover.
    You both look after yourselves.
    All the best.
    John

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  55. Fantastic images of birds! The red-winged black bird looks really handsome. Nature brings so much joy in this difficult time. Thank you, stay well David <3

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  56. This is a great post, words and photos both :)

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  57. La vida sigue sin detenerse para ellos David y es agradable verlos así, no como la nuestra, que por ahora la tenemos detenida en casa. Si estáis en cuarentena pásala bien y cuídate amigo.
    Desde casa te mando este abrazo 🙅

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  58. Thank you for this delightful narrative of the Red-winged Blackbird, which I observed often on PEI , but was unaware of its name.

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  59. I think the red winged blackbirds must me the birds I see along the sides of the highway, I notice them for the flash of red and how sometimes they seem to be flying so close to my car before darting away.

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  60. David - this post is quite entertaining in its prose and pictures. Our first male blackbirds arrived March 1, and the first female two days ago. Lots of "burble-ee" ringing out through the valley! I was especially intrigued by your photos of the nest - how did you get so close without getting an aerial attack from Mom and Dad? Stay well!

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    1. Oh, the aerial attack was taking place, Angie, but I was in out of their space quickly. Stay well during these difficult times.

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  61. Hi David,
    It looks like you found a pleasant way to spend your time when you are not able to go out for a walk in the nature because of the corona virus. When there is a lockdown in Canada you won't get bored easily. The birds are beautiful. You collected enough pictures of the life of these birds to compose a complete report.
    Greetings, Kees

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  62. Once again, David, your channeling of Mr. Bent is spot on! A very charming description of one of my favorite birds.

    Growing up in central and south Florida, I spent a lot of time probing the reeds in lakes with hook and line for tasty panfish. Red-winged Blackbirds were my constant, and noisy, companions. My Dad said it sounded like a thousand rusty-gates swinging open to welcome us to the "bream beds" (spawning area).

    Years later, one of my first birding field guides (Petrson?) described the call of the Red-winged Blackbird as similar to a rusty gate opening. Memories of my Dad flooded back in that moment and it has been a special bird for me ever since.

    Take care, Arthur --- errr, David!

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  63. Splendid post about a bird that stars in the opening pages of one of my favourite books - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance! I have seen them in the feather, but only once.

    Maybe the next post should be in the manner of Mr. Shakespeare?

    Hope all is well - S

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    1. I might just take a crack at that, Stewart. Maybe a title along the lines of "My Bird Patch for a Blackbird!"

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  64. You just took us through one full cycle of the Red-Winged Blackbird. A mother's duty is never fully done. You've said it all perfect about a woman's demeanor, Miriam. With most people spending time in isolation for three to four weeks, many are interested in buying Talking parrot sales chennai from Chennai.

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  65. I'd never heard of Mr. Bent, so that was where I began. I found this site, which detoured me for a while. He did, indeed, have quite an entertaining style, and I thoroughly enjoyed browsing the entries. They gave me enough of a sense of what he was up to that I enjoyed your piece even more than I would have otherwise. I was completely entranced through the whole of it, and of course the photos were splendid as ever.

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  66. Hahahahaha ... this bird is definitely a handsome guy :-))))
    Beautiful black and its colors are very bright! I must honestly say that I also like the female very much. She has very light delicate colors through her feathers and that is really nice to see.
    You have also been able to photograph a litter with little ones. Hopefully they will all become big and strong ;-) Really a beautiful series. my compliments.
    A big kiss xx

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