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Red-winged Blackbird - BirdForum Opus

Displaying adult male in fresh plumage
Photo © by David Roach
Wakodachatchee Wetlands, Florida, USA, 10 January 2009
Agelaius phoeniceus


22·7 cm (9in)
Male: A small blackbird with jet-black body and bright red shoulder patches (epaulets) edged with yellow.
Female and Juvenile: Heavily streaked brown overall, very easily mistaken for a large sparrow, but note "blackbird" bill and strong streaking along body.

Similar Species

Easily confused with the Tricolored Blackbird, which is only found in western USA, from Southern Oregon south to Baja California.


Breeds from Alaska east across Canada to Newfoundland and south to northern Baja California, central Mexico, the Gulf coast, and Florida.


The Red-shouldered Blackbird from Cuba was formerly considered a subspecies of the Red-winged Blackbird.


Photo © by nitiman
Alto, New Mexico, USA, 18 February 2007
Immature male
Photo by Daddylion
St John's Marsh, Michigan, USA, 27 September 2008
Adult female subspecies A. p. mailliardorum
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Pacifica, California, USA, 09 April 2021

This is a polytypic species, which consistis of about 24 subspecies[1]

  • A. p. arctolegus: South-eastern Alaska and Yukon to north-central US; winters to south-central US
  • A. p. fortis: Montana to south-eastern New Mexico (east of Rocky Mountains); winters to Texas
  • A. p. nevadensis: South-eastern British Columbia to Idaho, south-eastern California and southern Nevada; winters to southern Arizona
  • A. p. caurinus: Coastal south-western British Columbia to north-western California; winters to central California
  • A. p. aciculatus: Mountains of south-central California (east-central Kern County)
  • A. p. neutralis: Coastal southern California (San Luis Obispo County) to north-western Baja
  • A. p. sonoriensis: South-eastern California to north-eastern Baja, southern Nevada, central Arizona and north-western Mexico
  • A. p. nyaritensis: Coastal plains of south-western Mexico (Nayarit)
  • A. p. grinnelli: Pacific slope of western Guatemala to north-western Costa Rica (Guanacaste)
  • A.. p. phoeniceus: South-eastern Canada to Texas and south-eastern US
  • A. p. littoralis: Gulf Coast of south-eastern Texas to north-western Florida
  • A. p. mearnsi: Extreme south-eastern Georgia and northern Florida
  • A. p. floridanus: Southern Florida (Everglades to Key West)
  • A. p. megapotamus: Central Texas and lower Rio Grande Valley to eastern Mexico (n Veracruz)
  • A. p. richmondi: Caribbean slope of Mexico (southern Veracruz) to Belize and northern Guatemala
  • A. p. pallidulus: South-eastern Mexico (northern Yucatán Peninsula)
  • A. p. nelsoni: South-central Mexico (Morelos and adjacent Guerrero to western Puebla and Chiapas)
  • A. p. matudae: Tropical south-eastern Mexico
  • A. p. arthuralleni: Northern Guatemala
  • A. p. brevirostris: Caribbean slope of Honduras and south-eastern Nicaragua
  • A. p. bryanti: North-western Bahamas
  • A. p. mailliardorum: Coastal central California
  • A. p. californicus: Central Valley of California
  • A. p. gubernator: Mexican Plateau (Durango to Zacatecas, México and Tlaxcala)


Preferred habitats include fresh and saltwater marshes, rice paddies, sedge meadows, alfalfa fields, and other croplands.


Can fly at speeds of up to 30 mph during migration. Males sit with tails slightly flared.


Their main diet consists of seeds from grasses and other herbiage. They also eat a variety of insects and invertebrates.


Adult male
Photo © by markshep
Moreno Valley, California, 13 May 2006

Although primarily a marsh bird, the Red-winged Blackbird will nest near virtually any body of water and occasionally breeds in upland pastures. Each pair raises two or three broods a season, building new nest for each clutch. Each time they build a new nest, which keeps the nest from becoming infected with parasites that could kill the baby birds.

After the breeding season, the birds gather with other blackbirds in flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Although blackbirds are often considered pests because they consume grain in cultivated fields, farmers benefit because the birds consume harmful insects during the nesting season.


Song: Composed of a series of introductory notes konk-la-ree or gurr-ga-leee followed by a terminal buzz or trill.
Call: Short and relatively simple - low clack, sharp nasal deekk, and metallic tink.


Photo © by proudpapa56
Central Pennsylvania, 18 June 2017

Populations in western USA, Mexico and farther south are mostly resident. Those in northern and eastern North America are largely migratory.

In Culture

Sightings of this bird were reported in 1600 by English settlers.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Fraga, R. (2020). Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/62297 on 30 March 2020).
  3. What Bird
  4. Yasukawa, K. and W. A. Searcy (2020). Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.rewbla.01
  5. Jaramillo, A. & Burke, P. (1999) New World Blackbirds: The Icterids. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Recommended Citation

External Links

GSearch checked for 2020 platform.1