Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are widespread throughout North America. They are easily recognizable by the bright red patches on their wings. This species commonly forages in or near aquatic habitats, including wetlands and marshes. The red-wing is also seen in prairie, pasture, and cropland ecosystems.
Insects and seeds make up the majority of the red-winged blackbird's diet. They are fond of beetles, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and spiders during the breeding season. Throughout winter, these birds eat mainly seeds and grains.
If you are interested in learning more about the red-winged blackbird, read on! In this article, we will take a closer look at what these birds eat, how they find food, and the best way to attract them to your yard.
A red-winged blackbird foraging for food on the ground
Red-winged blackbirds primarily feed on insects and seeds. Which food sources compose the majority of their diets depends on the time of year. For example, during the breeding season, blackbirds consume more insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, snails, and spiders.
On the other hand, seeds make up the largest portion of this bird's winter diet. They generally feed on plant matter high in fats, including waste grain, sunflower seeds, grasses, and the seeds of weeds such as cocklebur and ragweed. They also occasionally eat fruits and berries.
For a bird to remain healthy in captivity, their diet should mimic what they would naturally eat. Thus, red-winged blackbirds in captivity eat similarly to those in the wild, with diets consisting of a broad array of insects and seeds.
Insects such as spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars are important to the red-winged blackbird's diet. As are seeds and grains high in fat, including corn and sunflower seeds.
A red-winged blackbird collecting insects from a lily pad
Red-winged blackbirds are primarily ground foragers. When not involved in other activities, such as mating or nest building, these birds are usually eating or searching for food.
Red-winged blackbirds find food through a process known as gaping, where the bird sticks its closed bill into the ground or amongst dense vegetation and then forcibly opens it. This tactic exposes insects hiding in soil or under plant matter.
Red-winged blackbirds also pick seeds up off the ground and forage insects directly from vegetation. Occasionally, they find food by flycatching.
Red-winged Blackbirds use a process called gaping, where they put their bills into the ground to forage food
Red-winged blackbirds are diurnal, meaning they are active throughout the day. These birds forage frequently during the daylight hours.
During winter, the red-winged blackbird often feeds in large flocks consisting of other blackbirds and starlings. Whereas, during the breeding season, the birds often only associate with their mates.
A red-winged blackbird's winter diet consists mainly of seeds and grains. Insects are harder to come by in the colder months, so plant matter high in fats helps these birds survive the winter. Important food items include waste grains such as corn, sunflower seeds, tree seeds, and cocklebur seeds.
A male Red-winged blackbird perched
Red-winged blackbirds eat more insects than plant matter during the summer or breeding season. Summer foraging includes beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and spiders.
Baby red-winged blackbirds are primarily fed insects. Both parents generally take part in feeding their young, providing mainly aquatic insects, including damselflies, for morning meals and terrestrial insects throughout the latter part of the day.
Red-winged blackbird nestlings generally fledge and leave the nest around 12 days after hatching.
A female red-winged blackbird collecting insects for chicks
Red-winged blackbirds will eat black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, peanut hearts, and oats. Because they are ground foragers, you can spread these items out in your yard for the birds to eat.
Red-winged blackbirds drink water. They do so by dipping their bill in to get a drink, then raising their head to swallow.
An immature red-winged blackbird male drinking water from a birdbath
Red-winged blackbirds are attracted to a variety of mixed seeds, including hulled sunflower, black oil sunflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, and millet. They are more comfortable feeding on the ground but will visit feeders.
If you would like to provide a feeder for your blackbird neighbors, try an open-platform or hopper feeder. These offer the birds plenty of space to perch and eat - they are less likely to come to a crowded bird feeder.
Red-winged blackbirds also prefer being near a water source. If you have a pond or reservoir near your home, surrounded by aquatic vegetation like cattails and bulrushes, you are even more likely to be successful in attracting these birds.
Red-winged blackbirds eat a variety of seeds, including black oil sunflower, hulled sunflower, cocklebur, ragweed, grasses, and tree seeds.
Red-winged blackbirds will visit feeders, but they prefer foraging on the ground. To attract these birds to a feeder, try providing an open-platform or hopper feeder.
The majority of a red-winged blackbird's diet consists of insects and seeds, but they do occasionally eat fruits and berries.
Sunflower seeds are an important part of the red-winged blackbird's diet, particularly during the winter months.
Red-winged Blackbird eating seeds from a feeder
Red-winged blackbirds will eat peanut hearts. Seed mixes that include peanut hearts are an excellent way to attract red-winged blackbirds to your yard.
Red-winged blackbirds do not eat cattails, but instead, use them as nesting materials. Cattails and other aquatic vegetation such as bulrush, sedges, and winterberry are vital for blackbird habitat.
Red-winged blackbirds will eat mealworms, along with a wide array of other insects. Insects make up the majority of their summer diet.
Red-winged blackbirds are territorial, particularly where marsh wrens are involved. Blackbirds will eat the eggs of the marsh wren and vice versa.
Red-winged blackbirds generally nest in wetland and marsh habitats, thus mosquitoes are a part of their diet. If you have a dense mosquito population near your home, red-winged blackbirds are excellent for population control.
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