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: