Springtime For Red-winged Blackbirds
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I make it a habit every spring to photograph Red-winged Blackbirds’ courtship behavior. I’ve come to see it as emblematic of the change of seasons in this area.
Red-winged Blackbirds live in great numbers in the Tucson area. Paradoxically, they’re not a desert-dwelling species. They favor grasslands and wetlands. They seem to have benefitted enormously from humans’ agricultural activities. One can find them easily in the farmlands northwest of Tucson. In town, they show up near ponds and man-made bodies of water such as Sweetwater Wetlands, where I took these pictures.
Males do all of the work during the blackbirds’ courtship. The males stake out favorite perches — tree limbs, reeds, fence posts — where they are visible to the females. There, they sing and display, flashing their scarlet and gold shoulder epaulets, strutting and posturing. Their songs are extremely loud, especially considering that each male weighs less than two ounces.
Sometimes, one can find a dozen or more males showing off simultaneously in a small area. At Sweetwater Wetlands, the prime courting area seems to be the small ponds by the road at the front of the wetlands’ north edge. There, the blackbirds congregate beginning at sunrise.
The female blackbirds sit nearby, always on perches that are lower in height than those that the males have selected, demurely watching the males on display.
They don’t appear to be in any rush to show their approval. Often, they hide just out of sight among the reeds. The females don’t participate in the courtship singing but may vocalize with a soft call or two every now and then.
How a female chooses among the competing males is a good question. During courtship I never see the males and females intermingling. Often, however, I watch males diving into the reeds at the wetlands, down to where the females are located. If mating is going on down there it isn’t visible to me.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting. The first and second images at ISO 500, f8. The first image, @ 1/500, the second, @ 1/1250. The third and fourth images at ISO 640, f8 and 1/500.