Facts About Red-winged Blackbirds
The red-winged blackbird is one of the most abundant of all songbirds in North America.
The red-wing's scientific name is Agelaius phoeniceus. Agelaius comes from the Greek word "agelaios" which means "flocking." Phoeniceus comes from the Greek word "phoinikeos" for "red," because ancient Phoenicians brought to Greece red dye that they made from shellfish.
Red-winged blackbirds belong to the family Icteridae, which includes bobolinks, meadowlarks, orioles, cowbirds, grackles, and other blackbirds. "Ikteros" means "jaundice" (a liver disease making people's skin turn yellowish) in Greek, and many of the birds in this family are yellow.
Some people call American blackbirds "troupials," which comes from the French word "troupe" for their habit of flocking.
American blackbirds are not related to European blackbirds. In "Sing a Song of Sixpence," the "four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" were English blackbirds, closely related to our American robin! In the days when people ate songbirds, red-winged blackbirds didn't taste as good as robins, because robins and other thrushes, like the English blackbird, eat more fruit. People really did used to bake songbirds in pies, but the Migratory Bird Treaty Act made that illegal in 1918.
Redwings change their diets with the season. During the breeding season they eat mostly insects. As the babies fledge, the birds switch to eating more and more seeds, and can become problems for farmers. During winter, they eat almost entirely seeds. As they switch, the size of their muscular stomach (their gizzard), switches too, getting bigger and thicker to grind seeds in late summer, and shrinking as they eat more insects in spring. Over the course of a year, their diet is about 73% plant and 27% animal.
Male redwings weigh about 2 1/2 ounces. Females weigh about 1 1/2 ounces.
Redwings have excellent vision and hearing--probably better than ours.
But they have a poor sense of smell.
Sometimes the baby blackbirds fall into the water. They can swim a little
to get hold of a cattail and climb out, but they're sometimes eaten by water
snakes, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, and some fish.