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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Red-winged Blackbird -- Agelaius phoeniceus

RANGE: Breeds from the southern tip of Alaska, and Yukon down to northern Washington, across the northern part of the United States and Canada including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Great Lakes, and New England. Resident in the rest of the United States south into Baja Califonia, Mexico, and Central America. Northern birds migrate southward in winter.

STATUS: Abundant.

HABITAT: Breeds in marshes and agricultural areas, usually where there are wetlands and also along the edge of hayfields, old fields, and pastures. Prefers areas with trees nearby and where habitat edges are abundant; often perches on old erect vegetation. Is extremely territorial, partitioning territories into areas of several hundred square feet, thus efficiently limiting the numbers that can exploit a resource. Flocks in the winter and moves throughout fields and marshy areas.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Standing vegetation along open fields and marshes.

NEST: Nests in a deep narrow cup of grass, reeds, and weed rootlets, usually attached to emergent vegetation (particularly cattails) up to 12 feet above ground. Also nests in weeds and brush patches, croplands such as alfalfa and cereal grains, even upland areas of mixed chaparral.

FOOD: Consumes a diet consisting of both vegetable and animal material, including a variety of grains and seeds, insects, spiders, mites, and snails. Often descends in large numbers on cultivated fields, eating a great deal of the grain.

REFERENCES: Albers 1978, Beal 1900, Case and Hewitt 1963, Lowe and Mansell 1983, Mott et al. 1972, Orians 1961, Payne 1969.

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