Walk out to the end of our Dollar Lake dock these days and you will be accosted. The cat-tail clusters on both sides will explode with Red-winged Blackbirds – males, females, and young. Although none of the birds physically goes on the attack, they all engage in loud protest calls consisting of “Tee tee tee” , “Check”, and “Teow” calls. This is the standard Red-wing repertoire meant to announce danger and tell that dangerous thing to get lost. Most of the adult birds ascend to the branches of a nearby birch tree to file their complaints while the young birds flutter for safety among the stalks.
There are at least three nests located within a few hundred feet of the dock, but only one is visible. For a Red-wing nest to be visible is saying quite a bit. They are constructed of dead cat-tail fibers woven betwixt dead cat-tail stalks and they look like, well, dead cat-tails! Add a new crop of growing cat-tail leaves to the mix and you have a well concealed structure.
The nest closest to the dock, and the one which caused the most angst among the birds, has just produced a crop of fledglings. The young birds left the confines of their nest about a week ago but are still heavily dependant on their parents. They certainly look uncertain away from their familiar cradle. Tufts of down still cling to their head and their faces are bare of feathering. They are not ugly, but it’s safe to say that theirs is a face only a mother blackbird could love (see below). The back feathers look reasonably well developed but their tail and wing feathers have a long way to go.
There is no more diligent parent than a female Red-winged Blackbird. These birds – like I said, there are several nesters in this mini-colony – are constantly issuing in and out of the cat-tail stand. They are grabbing insects and returning to stuff them down anxious little throats hidden deep in the foliage. One favorite hunting tactic is to saunter through the mown grass picking off small moths. On occasion you’ll see them dart about like flycatchers whenever they intercept the path of a dragonfly. All insect food is game.
More than once I interrupted a female as she was returning with a mouthful of food. They will not drop down and betray the location of their young at such a time, so they hover about noisily until the coast is clear. No matter how full that mouth is, they have the ability to call loudly and clearly (why don’t you try that with a Twinkie in your maw). She will not drop or eat her load, but single-mindedly continues harassment until I am away from the dock. Since it is my dock as well, I once decided to stay on it for 15 minutes (to prove a point if nothing else) and noted that one of the females held onto her dragonfly the entire time (see below).
The males are the noisiest of the protest mob and they are always the most noticeable of the species by design. It is their task to be “in the face” of all intruders. This is why they are endowed with those bright scarlet epaulettes. They are the “Red-wing” of the species name. The females are camouflaged so as to blend into the background and avoid calling attention to themselves or their young. They are somber in coloration but not behavior. It is worth time to consider the female and realize that she too is attractive within her natural restrictions. Some even sport reddish shoulders as if to prove that they too are Red-wings. Of course, there would be no Red-wings of either sex without the diligence of the females during nesting season.
Yes, we need the males too, but since they get most of the publicity it is worth the time to post a blog posting without showing any male ‘wings for a change.