They’re Ba-ack!

I would never let my husband buy a house without me.  I want to do my own picking, choosing and criticizing of wallpaper.  But it happens that people get sudden transfers and must jet off to find a new family homestead in 48 hours. Whoever stays home to pack the boxes has to rely on their partner to make a good pick.

Lady Red-Winged Blackbirds wouldn’t mind at all. Around this time of year, male Red-Wings are returning north in droves, along with other Icterids -a fancy word for blackbirds and their kin. Grackles, cowbirds, Rusty Blackbirds and others form large, loose flocks and begin making their way to summer breeding grounds. Males arrive two to three weeks in advance of the females, scouting out the best nesting sites. Here at Hill-Stead I start looking for them during the latter part of February. The population at our pond increases through the month of March as new waves of migrants work their way up north.  The minute I hear that first telltale Red-Wing call, I know that spring has really started. It’s a change-of-season bellweather, often before any meteorological warmth of significance has occurred. With Red-Winged Blackbirds in place, it isn’t long before Tree Swallows arrive and Wood Frogs begin calling. The wind may still blow chill, but the sun is a stronger one by the time the blackbirds come and with my outside work I begin a tan on my face and the backs of my hands. Glove-wearing is definitely over for now.

These Red-Wing fellows are handsome husbands, recognized by their shiny black feathers and the tri-colored epaulettes or “badges” on their wings. Of course, this is where their name comes from. The badges are an important key to the house hunting. The whole reason the birds are back early is to settle into an advantageous nesting territory, the better to snag a “trophy” wife. For the female bird will be looking for the chap who can optimize her breeding opportunities-the best nesting area and “go-getter”-type spouse will equal her greatest chance of having a large number of living offspring. Trophy wife, trophy husband, trophy real estate. It’s like the Farmington Valley in miniature.

The male Red-Wing uses his badges to remarkable purpose. They are red, yellow and white and the bird can flash them at will, showing the whole thing, or just a bit. In fact, he can hide them, too, in a kind of stealth move. Not unexpectedly, males use a big flash of the whole thing at birds trying to enter a territory they’ve claimed for their own. They are essentially saying, “No chance, buddy.” Having good badges indicates how far up on the social scale you are. Birds that are trying to get a territory of their own may hide their badges completely and enter an already claimed area to see how well the resident bird is apt to defend his spot. Really macho blackbirds even defend against the badgeless, just in case. Inexperienced or just plain foolish males may fail to defend, to their sorrow. Enterprising and stealthy badge hiders may sometimes manage to prise away a good territory. He who hesitates is lost!

Before long the tops of trees near our pond will fairly bristle with Red-Wings singing out and flashing their badges. There are, in my opinion, few things prettier than a flashing Red-Wing Blackbird at the top of a tree on a sunny day. It’s even better if he’s singing out his bold cry, “Conkareeeee!” Somehow these birds command attention in a unique way, and their looks and ways bring life into sharp focus. They remind me to live in the moment, leave the past winter to itself and breathe in the warming spring breezes.

See you on the trails,

Diane Tucker
Estate Naturalist


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9 Responses to “They’re Ba-ack!”

  1. Bridget Willard Says:

    I shared it on G+ and pinned it. Very beautiful photos for certain.

  2. Diane Tucker Says:

    Wow, Bridget! Thank you! I don’t know what “pinning” is, but I know you and I bet it’s good. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the kind attention you give to the blog. It just makes my day that you are out there watching over it and me. You are truly a guardian angel.

  3. Rae Spencer Says:

    I love that first photo! Really spectacular!

  4. magsx2 Says:

    A very adorable bird, I love how it is jet black, and then you see that beautiful colour. 🙂
    I think it’s cute that the male goes and finds a safe place for his family. 😀

  5. Beth Says:

    Love your words and the way you relate all of our habitat to you!!!

  6. Cynthia M. Says:

    Love your photos! Red-wings are one of my definite signs of spring as well, but I didn’t realize how much earlier they arrive than the females! We don’t have wetland near where I live, and I miss hearing the peepers and Red-wings on a daily basis.

    • Diane Tucker Says:

      Thank you! I can’t take credit for the very first one-it is a Lang Elliott one, but apparently he lets it be used without mention. It is a great photo. The other two are mine, taken at Hill-Stead naturally. The peepers and wood frogs are going crazy here with the unusual spate of really warm weather. It makes me feel really good, too. Thanks for reading!

  7. Anne Melissa Dowling Says:

    I am always learning from your posts. Thank you.
    And, I laugh at your hilarious analogies. I LOVE these posts!

  8. Animal Lovers' Blog Says:

    Reblogged this on Animal Lovers' Blog.

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