South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Red-winged Blackbird

Agelaius phoeniceus

Length: 7.5 - 9 inches Wingspan: 12 - 14 inches Seasonality: Summer / All Seasons
ID Keys: Males red overall with red shoulder patches.  Females heavily streaked with brown and dusky white.

Red-winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceusRed-winged Blackbirds are one of the most abundant birds in the state. They can seemingly be found in just about every marsh or weedy ditch in the state during the summer.  The colorful males (photo on the right) can often be seen perched on high perches, singing their song and defending their territory.  The less colorful females (see photos at the bottom of the page) are often not as visible.  Red-winged Blackbirds are somewhat more dispersed during the summer breeding season, but are much more gregarious during migration and in the winter, when flocks of mixed blackbird species may number in the many thousands.

Habitat: Marshes, swamps, hayfields, and wet thickets.  Often frequents feedlots.

Diet: Mostly insects and seeds.  Many insects in the summer, but the majority of the diet is seeds and waste grain. A noted enemy of sunflower growers!

Behavior: Usually forages by walking along the ground in search of seeds and insects.  They will also forage low in vegetation. 

Nesting: Mid-May through August.  The nest of a Red-winged Blackbird is an open cup of grasses, reeds, and other plant material, built in wetland vegetation such as cattails.  The female usually lays 3 or 4 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  Upon hatching, both parents feed the young.  The young leave the nest after about 2 weeks.

Breeding Map: Breeding bird survey map

Song: Red-winged Blackbird Song, also Red-winged Blackbird Call

Migration: Summers throughout much of North America, except rare in Alaska and in northern Canada.  Populations in Canada and the northern tier of U.S. states typically migrate southward in the fall, although they are present all year in much of the U.S.

Similar Species: Generally distinctive.  The very similar Tricolored Blackbird is only found in a few locations in California.

Bird Feeders: Will attend feeders for breadcrumbs and various seeds

Conservation Status: Very common and widespread.  They are considered by some (including in this state) an agricultural pest because of their fondness for sunflower seeds.  Efforts are underway in many areas (unfortunately, including in this state) to cull their numbers through mass poisoning or netting. However, given the large population and wide geographic distribution, the IUCN lists the Red-winged Blackbird as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Red-winged Blackbird

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Red-winged Blackbird"

3) - Red-winged Blackbird

Photo Information: April 18th, 2010 - Minnehaha County, South Dakota -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Red-winged Blackbird photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Red-winged Blackbird - Species Range Map
South Dakota Status: Very common summer breeding resident and migrant.  Uncommon in the winter