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



Ecology

Q. What is the range of the American redwing?

A. The American redwing is found over most of North America. See its range map

Q. What is the redwing's habitat?

A. Redwings can be found in a wide range of habitats, but they usually nest in marshes and spend a lot of time feeding in fields. Sometimes they visit backyard bird feeders.

Q. What is the redwing's role in the ecosystem?

A. Redwings are omnivores. They eat a wide range of food in marshes during the breeding season. The rest of the year they mainly eat seeds on the ground. They eat a lot of grain.

Redwings are in turn eaten by foxes, bobcats, hawks, shrikes, and owls, and crows and blue jays often take their eggs and babies. Hundreds of thousands of redwings are poisoned every year in places where they destroy crops.

Q. What are a redwing's enemies?

A. Natural predators and humans are the redwing's worst enemies.

Q. What do redwings eat?

A. Redwings eat large quantities of seeds and insects.

Q. How do scientists learn where the redwings from one state or province migrate for the winter?

A. Scientists study bird banding data to learn where redwings go. They put thousands of numbered bands on redwing legs, but they know they will only recover data from a few of these birds in the future. So it takes a long time to amass enough data for them to draw accurate conclusions. Meanwhile, redwings can change some of their migration patterns, making the research even more complicated.

Q.How can we participate in Journey North's Red-winged Blackbird Migration Study?

A.You can

Q. Which returns first: males or females?

A. Male redwings arrive on the breeding grounds a few days to a few weeks before the females return. Females look like large sparrows, so are often unnoticed.

Q. W
hat do redwings eat when getting ready for their migration?

A. During late winter and late summer, redwings pig out on as much food as they can, mostly grain.

Q. Do redwings travel together when they migrate?

A. Yes, they form flocks for both feeding and flying during migration.

Q. What might be some advantages for redwings to migrate in groups?

A. While feeding, the more redwings there are, the more likely that at least one of them will notice a predator and warn the rest. During migratory flights, hawks have trouble singling out one redwing to strike when faced with their fast-moving, tight migratory flocks.

Q. Where do redwings spend the winter?

A. Some redwings winter all the way up in southern Canada and the northern states, but the majority of them winter in the central states, especially in agricultural areas.

Q. Do redwings migrate by day or night?

A. Redwings mostly migrate during daytime.

Q. When do redwings leave their wintering grounds?

A. Redwings typically start moving northward in mid-February, and reach the northern states by March.

Q. Many neotropical migrants have a fairly regular migration from year to year. Why don't redwings depart at almost the identical time each spring?

A. Neotropical migrants have no way of knowing what the weather may be like across the Gulf of Mexico when they leave their wintering grounds. Most of them migrate much later than redwings, and time their migration by daylength. Redwings are very dependent on open water on their marshland nesting territories. Since weather conditions vary enormously from one year to the next, so redwing migration varies, too.

Q. How do redwings prepare for the journey north?

A. Redwings double their fat reserves before migrationl, which helps fuel their flight. Adults molt, growing new body and flight feathers, in summer after they've finished breeding: these feathers will be fresh for fall migration, provide maximum warmth in winter, and still be in good enough condition for spring migration.

Q. When do the redwings arrive in their breeding marshes?

A. Male redwings arrive sometime between mid-February and mid-March.

Q. What do the redwings do first upon arrival back on their territories in the spring?

A. Males spend their mornings in the marsh, displaying and defending their territories. Until the weather is warm enough for food production in the marsh, they often leave in afternoon to feed in a field.

Q. What are some of the hazards that redwings face on their long migrations?

A. Being in so much unfamiliar territory, redwings are more vulnerable to predators during migration than when they are on a breeding territory. They only rarely hit communications towers, because they migrate by day. If they join a huge flock that causes damage on a farm, they may get poisoned or shot.

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