Archive for Icterid (blackbird)

Red-winged Blackbird female 7/29/18

Female Red-wings are smaller than males. Instead of black they are a smoky dark brown above with a dark streaky breast underneath. She doesn’t sport scarlet epaulets, but some females have a reddish tint in their face (though this one only has a hint). In the northern part of their range where they are migratory birds, females arrive on the breeding grounds after the males. They are fond of fresh and saltwater wetlands, especially those with cattails, and breed in loose colonies where the female does all the nestbuilding, brooding, and young rearing. Red-winged Blackbird nests are heavily preyed upon and during the nesting period. Males stand guard, alerting the colony with warning calls, and ganging up to drive off predators.


Baltimore Oriole male 5/23/18

This handsome guy plays flute over my garden off and on all day while making the rounds of his territory. Clear calls and songs flow out over the neighborhood. He seems settled but I’ve not seen his mate who may already be sitting in a woven bag of a nest high up in some hardwood. His most prominent perch I know of is a huge old maple just leafing out and I often see him up there. He’s the most brilliant of all songbirds, arriving with that first flush of flowering fruit trees, and you just never think something so flashy and flutey is a member of the blackbird family.


Orchard Oriole immature male 5/18/18

I don’t often run across Orchard Orioles but when I do it’s this time of year and usually, but not always, near fresh water—like the woody edges of a river, pond, marsh or swamp. Most songbirds mature after just 1 year, but Orioles take 2. This one’s an immature male, brighter and yellower than adult males who are black above and a rusty orange below and who are more often mistaken for a Robin than recognized as a different oriole. The immature male has an indistinct black bib below the bill that can vary individually, but helps tell this bird apart from a female Baltimore Oriole who is similarly yellow green above and yellow orange below.


Common Grackle 4/17/18

Few blackbirds are as colorful close up as the Common Grackle. Even odder is that the colors they do sport aren’t pigment-based like most birds’ feathers, but iridescent which depends on the fine-tuned microstructure of the feathers to reflect light, and in that way that create those shiny and metallic blue-greens, purples, and bronzes. You’ll often see Common Grackles strutting around a lawn looking for some omnivorous snack, or gathered in groups high in the treetops and making an ungodly racket, or flying along with their tails folded into a v-shaped scoop.


Red-winged Blackbird male 3/12/18

Everyone has their surefire harbingers of spring, Red-wing Blackbirds singing konk-a-ree are mine.


Baltimore Oriole male 5/19/17

As colorful as they are, Orioles belong to the blackbird family Icteridae, which also includes grackles, bobolinks, oropendolas, and caciques. For a time it was thought that Bullocks and Baltimore Orioles were the same species and were together renamed the Northern Oriole, but later it was discovered they didn’t hybridize as much as was previously thought, and the earlier nomenclature was reinstated. When Baltimore Orioles first return in the spring they are still on a winter diet of fruits and nectar, and will come to feeding stations providing oranges and jellies, but then soon switch to a diet of insects and invertebrates.


Baltimore Oriole female 5/18/16


It’s strange how many birders only post photos of the more colorful adult male birds. Several flutey Baltimore males have been around for over a week now and for sure their rich orange coat is brilliant, but ain’t she purdy? She’s a little flutey herself though in a soft-talking way, and she chatters softly too. I’m seeing more Balties this year than in many a year, and not sure what’s up with that, maybe just lucky. This female seems to be one of a pair I hear more than see, high up in a nearby maple. She’ll weave a remarkable bag-like hanging nest out of long fibers, often recycled from previous nests. Look at that blackbird bill! They like parkland—scattered trees with open spaces and they’re no strangers to residential and rural neighborhoods, but you won’t find them in a thick forest, except maybe along the edge of it.


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