Birds of a Feather: Red-winged Blackbirds

Guest post by Akshay Manohar 

Male Red-winged Blackbird by Julia Flanagan

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.  

This song was written by the Beatles in 1968 in response to the racial tensions rattling the United States at the time. It was performed by both Paul McCartney and an unnamed blackbird, whose brilliant performance, some say, McCartney has yet to live up to.

The lyrics sung by the blackbird in the song must be quite famous among blackbirds, because they all sing the same rich, musical cong-a-lee.

If you’d like an encore performance, you could make your requests at the nearest marshes and swamps because that’s where Red Winged Blackbirds like to live. But be warned, they are very territorial and are known to attack anyone who comes too close to their nests.

Although they like to live mainly in marshes and swamps, they are also known to nest near almost any body of water. They can be found all over the continental United States, and even in parts of Alaska.

Males are black with bright red patches on the shoulders of their wings, as their name suggests. Females are heavily streaked a dusky brown. They are slightly smaller than robins. Their nests are cup shaped and each clutch of eggs is laid in a new, different nest.

After the breeding season, they gather with each other in extremely flocks made up of up to a million birds, making them a health hazard since diseased birds now have an opportunity to spread their illness to others.

The bird typically flies straight and strong while rapidly beating its wings. While the Red Winged Blackbird is quite fast in flight, it is not known to fly as fast as its military cousin, the SR-71 Blackbird, which can fly at over three times the speed of sound…on average.

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