Signs of Spring Everywhere Signs of Spring Everywhere
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Signs of Spring Everywhere Update: March 8, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Red-winged Blackbirds Now Arriving
2/26/99 Antioch, IL "They're here! The Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived from wintering grounds to our Chain of Lakes Area in Northern Illinois," reports Antioch Community High School. "They came during the night and the males were perched on their cattails by 7:00 am. The territories are going quick! This is the earliest that we have seen them arrive in 10 years of observation. (Except that last year our birds arrived one day earlier on 2/25/98.) We are 3 miles south of the Wisconsin border in the Northeast corner of the state of Illinois. Think Spring!!!!"

And from other Journey North observers...
  • 2/28/99 Norton, OH "Male Red-winged Blackbirds are now singing on potential territories in northeast Ohio after migrating back North."

  • 2/28/99 Washingtonville, NY "Today we sighted our first Red-winged Blackbird, claiming a territory with a few cattails left (most of the cattails have been pushed out by purple loosestrife)."

Male Red-winged Blackbirds are now flooding into northern marshes from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S. states. Females will appear about 2 weeks after males arrive.

Research what Red-winged Blackbirds eat, and where they winter. Then see if you can answer this question:

Challenge Question # 7: Why do you think redwings return just as marshes are thawing each spring?

(To respond to this Challenge Question, see below)
Fun Activities
Here are some things to try BEFORE redwings start actually nesting. (Once they are feeding babies, it's best to leave them alone to take care of their young.):
  • Listen to the Red-winged Blackbird's Song
    Wait for download; 130 K file.
    Recording Courtesy of
    Lang Elliott

    Males display their red wing patches in territorial displays. Visit a Red-winged Blackbird territory each day at about the same time (early morning or late afternoon), choose one nearby male and count the number of times he displays in a 10 minute period. Find him each day (he'll be in the same area) and count his displays for 10 minutes each day. Graph this number for as many days as you can over the next few weeks. You'll know the females have arrived when these territorial displays intensify. Females look completely different from males--more like large sparrows.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds SEE RED. If you can visit a place where red-wings nest, try wearing different clothes to see if it makes a difference. One day wear bright red and see if a bird displays more or is even attracted to you. One spring a Red-winged Blackbird even attacked a Journey North writer's bike helmet that had red stripes!

For a fun class experiment, students can make Red-winged Blackbird "action figures" out of paper mache', old socks, wadded up paper, or whatever other materials you can think of. Make each one black, with red patches, and tie each one on its own branch. Then take a hike to the edge of a nearby Red-winged Blackbird display area and set them out in a long line.

  1. Do real redwings approach these models?
  2. Do they attack any of them?
  3. How realistic do the models have to be to attract redwings?
  4. When you have one or two successful "models," try covering up the red patches and see what the redwings do.
  • Red-winged Blackbirds watch for crows. When you're looking at redwings, watch for any crows flying overhead. If redwings see a crow, what do they do?

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 7
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

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