Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbird

You are no doubt familiar with the English nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence":
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four ands twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.
There was such a commotion,
that little Jenny wren;
Flew down into the garden,
and put it back again.
A bit silly and nonsensical, but this rhyme "flew" into my mind when I started thinking about today's subject, the Red-winged Blackbird.

The common name for the Red-winged Blackbird is taken from the mainly black adult male's colouring and distinctive red shoulder patches, which are visible when the bird is flying or displaying.

 At rest, the male also shows a pale yellow wing bar.

The female Red-wing is blackish-brown, as you can see from the picture below, and is smaller than the male.

Female Red-winged Blacbird (above and below)

 Young birds resemble the female, but are paler below and have buff feather fringes. Both sexes have a sharply pointed bill. The tail is of medium length and is rounded. The eyes, bill, and feet are all black.

At this time of year they are gathering around the pond area in a nearby park. The males are displaying, either perched on a bull rush or atop a tree.

Red-winged Blackbird and reflection

Red-winged Blackbirds have a very distinct call and puff themselves up as they call. Here is a short video/ audio of Red-winged Black bird's song:

The Red-winged black bird is aggressively territorial and will attack much larger birds. Last Spring when out on a walk in the park, my husband and I were surprised by a group of Red-wings swooping down on us. It was a bit startling, and slightly reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds", but in breeding season it is best to watch that you are not coming too close to their nesting territory. 

The Red-winged Blackbird is omnivorous, the main part of its diet consisting of plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, and fruit (blueberries, blackberries) in season, but about a quarter of its diet consists of insects and other small animals, and this amount increases during the breeding season. The Red-wing forages for its preferred food of flies, moths, butterflies and dragon and damsel flies by picking them from plants or catching them in the air; but they will also eat snails, frogs, carrion, worms and spiders. They seem to happily accept seeds, bread  or suet as well.

Caught in the light the feathers on the male Red-wings backs and heads shine an irridescent blue colour.

Red-winged Blackbirds nest in small colonies, the nests are usually built in cattails, rushes, grasses, sedge or in alder or willow bushes. The female builds the nest of grass, sedge, moss and mud bound to grasses or branches above the water where it is well concealed.

Nesting in groups and nesting over water give them some protection from predators. The females and the young, with their brownish colouring, are well camouflaged while in the nest. The males often act as sentinels, and use a number of different calls to alert other birds to danger. Mobbing, especially by males, is also used to scare off unwanted predators, although mobbing often targets large animals, humans and man-made devices by mistake. Case in point, my husband and I taking an innocent stroll by the pond.

Display behavior, probably telling me to get lost!

Well that is the four and twenty blackbirds as promised by the title of this post. Beautiful birds, with a bit of attitude, they are so much a part of the spring sights and sounds around the pond now and through the summer. When out for a walk in the park I make time to stop and watch their antics and listen to their songs; on a warmish Spring day seated on a comfortable bench it is a simple but distinct pleasure.

I have not been around to your blogs as often as I would like recently for two reasons: I have been getting my Mother settled in a new setting after she fell recently resulting in a compound fracture in her lower back and second I have been having more and more trouble seeing, especially the computer screen. My Mum is slowly getting settled in a more supportive setting and I am scheduled to have cataract surgery soon. All good news, so bear with me, I appreciate everyone's support and comments and will get around to visit other sites as much as possible.

Work is progressing somewhat slowly in the studio. Here is the finished  watercolour of  Pink Poppies and below it another "poured" work of Rose hips. I think I will be painting some Red-wings soon, this post has given me inspiration and ideas.

Pink Poppies

Rose Hips

A song, not about Red-winged Blackbirds but Blackbirds, but an old favorite:

Thank you for stopping by, I appreciate your visit, and a special thank you to everyone that takes time to comment. Happy Whimsy Wednesday, until next week...........

Link to Wild Bird Wednesday:


  1. I very much like the results of your artwork posted here, Gillian. The gradual transitions of color from pale to bolder create nice effects. I’ve seen pink poppies in my neighborhood and although faded versions of the red they are equally pretty. I find this to be true also of the showy male blackbirds and their camouflaging female counterparts who look so pretty in their differing earth tones of brown. :)

  2. I'll be sending out good thoughts for your Mom. I hope her recovery is going well.

    I like your artwork and a great post and photographs about the blackbird.

  3. I just saw my first real Blackbird a few years ago, until then I could only dream about what they looked like.

    Hope that all is well with your Mom, and you.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  4. What a wonderfully comprehensive post about one of my favorite birds! I look forward to your paintings of this beautiful bird.

  5. what a beautiful post Gillian ! fantastic shots of theses birds !
    love the paintings too, especially
    Rose Hips !
    thank you so much for your visits Gillian ! this makes me happy !

  6. Gillian, your posts are always so very beautiful! This one was full of interesting information, wonderful photographs and stunning artwork. I hope your mom has a speedy recovery and your cataract surgery goes well. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Hi Gillian, I loved all your Red-wing blackbird shots. They are one of the prettier blackbirds. I hope you Mom is on the way to a recovery and I wish you well with the cataract surgery. I think you will be much happier after the surgery is done. Your painting are beautiful, the red poppies are gorgeous. Have a great evening.

  8. Hi Gillian,

    I tried an interesting experiment. I played both your videos at the same time, so as I listened to the Beatles song, I heard the Red-wings' call in the background. It may not be for everyone, but I really liked the effect :) Thanks for an informative and fascinating post. Loved the paintings as well. My continued good wishes for both you and your mother and for a successful cataract surgery. Not to worry about getting to other blogs. You have done really well to keep up with yours, with so much on your plate!

  9. What a wonderful post. Thanks so much for the information on the blackbird. Very interesting.. Your photos look great!

    Hugs, Linda

  10. I love the photos of the red wing black bird.

  11. Thanks for all the interesting information and photos
    of the "beautiful Redwing Blackbirds"..... I love the music..............and of course your paintings!

    Thanks Gill' and I also hope your Mom is adjusting to her new place....... and recuperating....

    see you Friday...........Marilyn

  12. I heard my first RWBB today! I love those birds! Great post!

  13. Nice Gillian, I have found these gorgeous birds difficult to photograph but you seem to have no problem. You sure know how to write a blog post too. Your watercolors just blow me away. You are a treasure!

  14. Great RWBBs! You've captured them so well Gillian.

  15. ...wonderful post! I love Red-winged Blackbirds. Our first of the year moved through our yard two weeks ago! Their call means summer to me...
    Loved listening to the videos!

  16. You caught the Blackbirds in good light, beautiful photos.

  17. so many great shots of the blackbird. I saw the male in Costa Rica. I loved it. :)

  18. Fantastic shots, Gillian, and a great variety of settings!

  19. Super post on the Red-winged Blackbirds Gillian. I wish you and your Mum all the best.

  20. I like how you've included the poppy photos in with the red-winged blackbirds@ Nice pairing of colours. My husband has seen blackbirds in our yard this year... but I haven't.

  21. Beautiful post.

    Regards and best wishes

  22. Your Blackbird photos are wonderful! I wonder if you would be able to explain or illustrate what a poured painting is sometime. I haven't heard the term before. The poppies are lovely. Best of luck with your surgery and I hope that your mom will be comfortable and well cared for in her new residence.

  23. Your paintings are always a delight to see Gillian, you are very talented. It will be pleasant for you to have for eyesight restored through the surgery soon, we rely on clear eyesight for so much.

  24. Your pictures are great. I love the red-winged blackbirds, I didn't realize until I started painting them that only the males had the colour. There songs are great to hear when out on a walk. I hope things go well with your eye surgery and you on up and running again. I know those cataracts can be a real problem but once fixed life is good again. Glad to hear you mom is doing better as well, that is such a tough go for them when they fall. Take care.

  25. Red-winged blackbird is new to me. Actually there are so many I don’t know and I’m constantly learning something new thanks to fellow bloggers. It’s such a beautiful bird, and by chance I saw a beautiful red-beaked black swan before visiting you. Very informative and educational post as always. I look forward to your painting of the bird.

    I know many people had cataract surgery. Just relax and things will be all right again. With best wishes for your mother's sooner recovery and for your surgery.


  26. Great photos of the Red-winged Blackbirds. They are a very attractive looking bird.

  27. Wow, gorgeous watercolours! Those are awesome photos of the blackbirds and great information. Our lowly birdfeeder seems to have attracted the attention of about 20 or so of these birds. They devour about 8 cups of birdseed a day, the little gluttons. Along with a few other birds that can elbow their way to the front of the line. The deer come along in the early evening and clean up any remnants that the birds have left behind. Who knew birdseed would be so popular?

    I may have been mistaken about the discontinuation of at least one of my favourite potato chip flavours. Either that or they found a box stuffed in the warehouse and put it on the shelf. Time will tell. The flavours in question are both Lay's Old Fashioned BBQ and Sea Salt & Pepper. I'm currently taste testing a few other brands...

  28. i dont have time to go for bird watching but it's nice to hear them singing early in the morning.