Red-winged blackbirds are widespread North American species. Their range expands from Alaska, throughout Canada and the United States, to Mexico and the Bahamas. These birds are easily recognized by their distinctive red wing patches and their reverberating calls.
Various marsh and wetland habitats are home to the red-winged blackbird. They are also fond of old crop fields, pastures, and agricultural areas. The species tends to nest amongst wetland vegetation and forage in fields where grain is abundant.
The red-winged is primarily a year-round resident throughout its range, but there are a few regions that populations migrate to and from.
Read on to discover more about the distribution range, migratory habits, and preferred habitat of this special blackbird!
The Red-winged blackbird is primarily a year-round resident throughout its range
The red-winged blackbird is widely distributed throughout North America. This species breeds from the marshes and uplands of Alaska, throughout most of the Canadian Provinces, and all of the continental United States. Populations of the red-winged also extend from Florida to the northern Bahama Islands and along the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic slope of Mexico.
Inland Mexico, the species is also a permanent resident from Durango to southern Guatemala, the coastal Yucatan Peninsula, and northern Belize. Additionally, small populations occur in the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands of Honduras, the Pacific lowlands of Nicaragua and El Salvador, and Costa Rica.
Overwintering populations can be found on the Pacific slope of Mexico and southern Baja California. Occasional populations also pop up in Bermuda during winter.
Red-winged blackbirds live in wetland and upland habits throughout the continental United States and locally in east-central and southern Alaska.
Populations in Alaska and the northernmost US are breeding only. The blackbird migrates away from these regions for the winter, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, northeastern and western North Dakota, northwestern South Dakota, and the northeastern third of Montana.
The rest of the continental United States is home to the red-winged blackbird year-round. Although, they do tend to migrate locally to upland areas where grain is widely available during winter.
Red-winged blackbirds live in wetland and upland habits throughout the continental United States and locally in east-central and southern Alaska
All 48 states in the continental US and a small portion of Alaska are home to the red-winged blackbird. They are year-round residents throughout most of this range.
Red-winged blackbirds breed widely throughout Canada, from southern Yukon to British Columbia, central Manitoba, northern Ontario, south-central Quebec, and the Codroy Valley of Newfoundland.
These birds overwinter in only a small portion of Canada, including coastal British Columbia, extreme southeastern Quebec and Ontario, and southern Nova Scotia.
Close up of a perched female Red-winged blackbird
Wetland and upland habitats are home to red-winged blackbirds. During the breeding season, this species prefers the dense cover of wetlands for nesting, including freshwater and saltwater marshes.
They also breed in upland sedge meadows and old crop fields. Although, the birds are more common in these areas during winter because they offer a healthy supply of seeds and grain.
Red-winged blackbird in its natural wetland habitat
The red-winged blackbird is not a rare species. Their wide distribution range makes these birds quite common, especially in wetland habitats during the breeding season.
The best place to see a red-winged blackbird is anywhere standing water, and dense vegetation are present. Ponds or reservoirs thickly lined with cattails are excellent places to watch for these birds.
They are rather noisy, particularly during the early breeding season, so you may hear them before you see them. Male red-winged song sounds similar to oak-a-lee-ink.
Red-winged blackbird (male) flying over a Wisconsin marsh in April
Red-winged blackbirds are active during daylight hours. How the birds spend their days varies based on sex and time of year. During the breeding season, males divide much of their daily time budget between establishing and protecting territory, copulating, foraging, and singing.
Pre-incubation females spend much of their time singing and engaging in agonistic behaviors, typically with a mate. Once incubation begins, females focus on foraging and caring for eggs and young.
Outside of the breeding season, both males and female Red-winged Blackbirds spend most of the daylight foraging.
Red-winged blackbirds are primarily non-migratory. Only populations in Canada and the northernmost United States move south to overwintering grounds outside of the breeding season. Throughout the rest of the US, Mexico, and the Bahamas, the birds are considered year-round residents.
Close up of a perched male Red-winged blackbird
During winter, the red-winged blackbird is present across the majority of its range. Their northern boundary runs from southern Nova Scotia, across southern Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, central and southeastern North Dakota, and western Montana to the west coast.
From this northern boundary, the species’ range stretches south through wetland and upland habitats to Mexico and the Bahamas.
Red-winged blackbirds survive winter by flocking to old crop fields and agricultural areas where seeds and grain are plentiful. They feed on these fields throughout the winter, then move back to wetland nesting grounds for the breeding season.
Blackbirds in the northernmost regions of their range have also adapted to survive by migrating away from areas where winters are harshest.
Red-winged Blackbird perched in a tree during the winter
During the summer breeding season, red-winged blackbirds are present throughout the entirety of their range, except for the Pacific Slope of Mexico and southern Baja, California. They can be found in a variety of wetland habitats from east-central Alaska to the Bahamas.
Red-winged blackbirds do live in groups. They are often considered a “colonial” nesting species. Several pairs often nest in close proximity amongst marsh and wetland habitats.
They also forage in loose flocks during the breeding season but do so away from their nest sites as these birds tend to be very territorial.
Outside of the breeding season, the red-winged is a social species. They let go of their territoriality and travel in flocks to forage and roost.
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