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Cheerful song of the red wing blackbird returns

By Staff | Mar 11, 2016

Most of the late-January snow has reluctantly melted and gone, leaving low places full with water or soggy underfoot.

Marshes and watercourses are filled and making ready for spring.

Even the water hazards on golf courses seem to await the arrival of the always cheerful and upbeat song of the showy red wing blackbird.

Last year’s cattails still poke their heads toward the beckoning sun . . . as if to say, “Mr. Blackbird with your shoulder epaulets of red and yellow won’t you make this pond your home this summer?”

One of the first-arriving birds returning from a winter much farther south, the red wing blackbird isn’t quite as friendly or cute as a wren or bluebird but he’s every bit as talkative and busy.

He announces his arrival with a constant, never-changing song often rendered from telephone wires. When perched on cattails or other wetlands vegetation he presents a hump-backed silhouette and his tail fanned wide so better to attract the attention of the much more subdued female.

Females are easy to miss. They are smaller with more muted colors of a light brown that has streaks of darker brown. At times mistaken for a sparrow, the female’s only flash of color is a orangish throat, and she doesn’t show herself to be as proud and full of herself as the boldly-colored male.

Singing away as his day goes along, the red wing male presents his swath or red and yellow as if it’s a badge of marshland honor.

When visitors come calling on his watery home, they might not think there’s any bird or animal activity about . . . but in seconds the red wing welcomes them with his “conk-la-lee” song that signifies his warm-weather presence.

Golfers could ask him about the whereabouts of one of their wayward shots, but he would only flit from one cattail to another, singing merrily all the time as he goes about his daily duties.

Mostly safe from natural enemies by nesting among the reeds and jumbled plants of the standing waters, the red wings might be found by marauding crows or another flying invader but most summers find them safely raising their young to adulthood.

The males crave attention and like to be noticed by humans. Their shiny plummage appears to be made of velvet when seen from even a short distance away. The mostly red shoulder patch could be some military decoration if the plucky bird were in a countr”s army.

Like daffodils or jonquils, the red wings are harbingers of better times just ahead in the outdoors.

And for that reason alone they can be saluted and made welcome by us.