Red-Winged Blackbirds

Not long ago I was out on a nearby trail and passed by a large bush down in a gulley – and the bush was singing. I couldn’t even see the birds among the branches, though it sounded like there were dozens. The sound stopped me in my tracks.

Photo Credit – Mr.TinMD

These birds are almost always found in flocks like the one I heard. In the summer the flock size is smaller, but in the winter flocks can number into the thousands. They like wetland areas but are also found on grasslands, in thickets, and in forests, but always close to water.

What I really wish I could see is one of their nests – they are masterful. The females (who are not black and look like finches) weave a deep, cup-like nest between several close-together, vertical plant stems such as cattails. She does this by winding plant material around the stems, around and over so it’s well-anchored to the stems. Then she adds wet leaves, decaying wood, and plasters the inside with mud. The final touch is lining the inside with soft grass. The completed nest is up to 7 inches wide, and 3-7 inches deep.

Back in the 1930s a naturalist deconstructed one of these nests. It was woven with 34 strips of bark from a willow tree and the leaves of 142 cattails, some of which were two feet long. Think about that – a bird with no hands wove that! On my next walk I’m not going to look for the birds, I’m going to look for their nests!