Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
(male, foreground; female, background)
Class: Aves — birds
Order: Passeriformes — passerines, or perching birds
Family: Icteridae — New World blackbirds
Genus: Agelaius (Vieillot, 1816) — red-winged blackbirds
Species: Agelaius phoeniceus (Linnaeus, 1766) — Red-winged Blackbird, a.k.a. “redwing”
Subspecies: About 20 to 22 subspecies recognized, based on physical characteristics; not all authorities accept all proposed subspecies. See current version of IOC World Bird List (Gill and Donsker 2019), Fraga (2014), and Yasukawa and Searcy (2019).
Sources: BirdLife International (2018), Gill and Donsker (2019)
Male: about 65 g (2.3 oz), on average
Female: about 43 g (1.5 oz), on average
Male: 22.7 cm (8.94 in), on average (Fraga 2014)
Populations and subspecies differ in body size and body proportions (Cornell Lab 2019).
Adult male: Non-glossy black with red-and-yellow epaulets (“shoulder patches”). One subspecies of coastal southern California, A. p. mailliardorum, has very little yellow on epaulet (Cornell Lab 2019). Bill and legs black.
Adult female: Upperparts dark brown. Underparts buff with dark brown or blackish stripes. Head and cheeks have contrasting buff-and-brown stripes. Bill blackish-gray; paler at base.
Immature male: Blackish but streaked like adult female.
Immature female: Similar to adult female but chin and throat white.
Juvenile: Similar to immature female, but pale areas more yellowish.
|Distribution & Status||Behavior & Ecology|
Breeding season: Marshes and ponds, wet meadows, roadside ditches, rice fields and other agricultural lands, suburban parks (Jaramillo and Burke 1999; Fraga 2014). Occasionally nest in woodlands near water (Cornell Lab 2019).
Nonbreeding season: agricultural fields, feedlots, pastures, grasslands, suburban areas, urban parks (Cornell Lab 2019; Yasukawa and Searcy 2019).
Elevation range: sea level to 3,000 m (10,000 ft) (Fraga 2014).
Populations in the Wild
Approximately 210 million mature individuals (BirdLife International 2018).
Population trend: declining (BirdLife International 2018); greater than 35% decline from 1966 to 2014 (Rosenberg et al. 2016).
Threats to Survival
Some subspecies in Mexico and Central America may be of local conservation concern (Fraga 2014). Climate change negatively affecting some blackbird populations (Forcey and Thogmartin 2017).
Species-level migration patterns complex: some populations migrate relatively short distances, some make long north-south migrations, and some migrate east–west or west–east. Populations in warmer climates (western U.S., Mexico, and farther south) mostly resident. Populations that breed in northern and northeastern North America overwinter in southern U.S. Distance traveled may span 600 to 1,000 km (400 to 600 mi) (Jaramillo and Burke 1999; Fraga 2014; Cornell Lab 2019).
Parents mostly feed chicks damselflies and dragonflies (Orians and Horn 1969).
Mainly forage on ground, exposing prey hiding under objects and among leaves of plants. Often forage in large flocks (hundreds of thousands of individuals) (Fraga 2014; Yasukawa and Searcy 2019).
Predators (non-comprehensive list)
Relationship with Humans
|Reproduction & Development||Species Highlights|
Male performs display (raises body feathers/epaulets, spreads tail) and sings to defend territories and attract mates (Nero 1956; Peek 1971; Peek 1972; Smith 1972; Yasukawa 1981; Jaramillo and Burke 1999). Typically mates with 2 to 4 (up to ~15) females, either sequentially or as harem (Fraga 2014). Female commonly mates with additional males (extra-pair copulations) (Westneat and Mays 2005).
Nest positioned low among marsh vegetation, shrubs, or trees (e.g., Stowers et al. 1968). Female lays 1 to 2 broods per breeding season. Eggs pale greenish-blue with dark spots and blotches (Jaramillo and Burke 1999). Eggs/young frequently taken by predators. In some regions, nests commonly parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbird (Clotfelter and Yasukawa 1999; Sawin et al. 2003).
Female: 1 to 2 years old (Orians and Beletsky 1989; Yasukawa and Searcy 2019)
Costa Rica: 2 to 3 eggs (Fraga 2014)
Smaller clutch sizes in populations at tropical latitudes (Jaramillo and Burke 1999).
Weight at Hatching
Age at Fledging
For bibliography, click the tab at the top of this page.
© 2019 San Diego Zoo Global
How to cite: Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) Fact Sheet. c2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/ red-winged-blackbird.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2019 Dec 31)
Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Prof. Ken Yasukawa for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.
Ken Yasukawa is Emeritus Professor of Biology at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He is a behavioral ecologist with research interests in the function and evolution of animal behavior.
Prof. Yasukawa has studied the behavior and breeding of the Red-winged Blackbird since the 1970s. He has published more than 50 research articles and book chapters on the breeding behavior, mating system, territoriality, parental care, communication, and co-evolution with brood parasites of this species. He authored a Red-winged Blackbird species account for The Birds of North America and is co-author of the monograph Polygyny and Sexual Selection in the Red-winged Blackbird (1995).
In addition to research and teaching, Prof. Yasukawa has served as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Field Ornithology, editor of Animal Behaviour, and The Auk: Ornithological Advances, and as President of the Animal Behavior Society.
Illustrations of Red-winged Blackbird nest and eggs.
"Agelaeus phoeniceus, Red-winged Blackbird"; Plate 5 in Howard Jones's Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio (Vol. 1) (1886).