Friday, March 5, 2010

Red-wing Duel

These two Red-winged Blackbirds were obviously trying to size up one another as they bounced from limb to limb, calling and posturing to each other. For a while they were sitting side by side about a foot apart and were going back and forth calling and flashing their red epaulets. They do this to gauge which of the two of them is bigger and therefore more fit to hold the territory they are fighting over. You can see in the picture below the bird on the top limb looking down at his rival...

...and this is what he was screaming in his face, "konka-ree!". Or in other words, "this is mine!". Male Red-winged Blackbirds return to the breeding grounds first and must secure the best territory they can muster. That is why this time of year you only see the males, which are black with the red shoulders, and no females, which are streaked brown. The females arrive later after the males have had time to sort out who gets what patch of cattails. It is extremely important for the males to find and fight for a good territory because when females arrive it will be the territories they are choosing, not the males. The females will nest in a territory they find the most suitable and it is up to the males to guess what territory the females will like best. If he has secured a really good spot he will have multiple females to attend to during the breeding season.

If you look at the picture below, you can see the male on the left is a solid, glossy black, while the male on the right still has some brownish feathers and his plumage isn't as uniform. That means the bird on the right is probably a Second Year bird, meaning he was born during the last breeding season and this is his first year to breed. The solid black male on the left is an After Second Year bird, meaning he was born at least two breeding seasons ago but possibly more. After the second year it is impossible to say how old the bird is unless it has been banded.

These two tough guys couldn't seem to settle their differences merely by posturing because they dropped into the bushes and were wrestling on the ground for quite a while. Sometimes you can't tell who the toughest guy is until you duke it out. The stronger bird in this case, the After Second Year male, managed to chase off the younger male, though I doubt the matter was completely settled. Fights usually end this way, with the older male being the victor. Older males have had more experience breeding and selecting mates and are tough to run off if you are a younger bird. The Second Year male may have to settle with a sub-par patch of real estate this year. If he makes it to another breeding season he will likely have the upper hand over the new green males this time next year.


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