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Frequently Asked Questions
Students' Questions and Experts' Answers
Contributed by Ornithology Expert Laura Erickson

Characteristics

Q. Why are they called red-winged blackbirds?

A. That's an easy one! Males are black birds with bright red patches on their wings.

Q. What is the red-winged blackbird's scientific name and how is it classified?

A. The redwing belongs to

  • Kingdom Animalia
  • Phylum Chordata
  • Subphylum Vertebrata
  • Class Aves
  • Order Passeriformes
  • Family Icteridae
  • Genus Agelaius (which comes from "flocking" in Greek)
  • Species phoeniceus (which comes from "red" in Latin)

Its scientific name is a combination of the genus and species names, or Agelaius phoeniceus.

Q. How big are redwings?

A. Redwings are 7 - 9 1/2 inches long with a wingspan of 12 - 14 1/2 inches.

Q. How much do redwings weigh?

A. They weigh 62 - 65 grams, or 2 1/2 ounces--a little less than a CD in its plastic case.

Q. What do redwings sound like?

A. Redwings have many vocalizations--a loud "Okalee" call in spring, whistles, "chuck" call notes, and other sounds.To learn more about them, see our Redwing Dictionary

Q. Why are some redwings all or partly white?

A. Some redwings are true or partial albinos.

Q. What do redwings look like when they're flying?

A. When redwings fly overhead backlit by the sky, it's often difficult to see their color pattern. They fly with a slight swoop, their wings beating steadily, and they often make calls that make them easy to detect.

Q. How fast do redwings fly?

A. Redwings have been clocked flying from 17 - 28 m.p.h.

Q.How are redwings different from and similar to other blackbirds?

A. No other North American blackbird has red patches on the wings on the males. Most blackbirds have noticeable differences between males and females, with females drabber, just like redwings.

Q. How is a redwing's body adapted to its lifestyle and habitat?

A. Redwings have sturdy legs with muscles designed to allow them to do the "splits" if they are perched on two different cattails at once. Their feathers are sturdy to prevent wear and tear as they move about in stiff, raspy cattails. They have fairly long intestines, allowing them to digest a wide variety of foods, from grains to slugs.

Q. How do a redwing's senses compare with a human's?

A. Redwing vision is a little more discriminating than ours--it can see things at a farther distance, and may be able to see a wider spectrum of colors than we can. A redwing can react to sights much more quickly than we can. A redwing's hearing is much more finely tuned than ours. It can hear higher-pitched sounds than we can, and can hear tiny differences in sound quality that our ears just simply can't detect. It's sense of touch is not as discriminating as ours in some ways, though it can weave a nest with amazing accuracy relying partly on this sense. Redwings can probably not taste as many flavors as we can, and they probably cannot smell as many odors.

Q. How smart are redwings?

A. Redwings are not quick to learn new things as blue jays, and do not have as good reasoning power as jays. But they are adaptable, and can quickly figure out how to find food and shelter in a new area where they've never been before. Many of their behaviors are instinctive, which makes them very adaptable but slow to learn new things.

Q. How do redwings communicate?

A. Redwings communicate with one another primarily by singing and other vocalizations.

Q. How can we study redwing songs?

A. To find out how ornithologists record and study animal sounds, see our Studying Animal Sounds Lesson

 

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