Bird Identification – Red-winged Blackbird – Swamp Blackbird
When you are looking for the first pussy willows in the frozen marshes, or listening to the peeping of young frogs some day in early spring, you will, no doubt, become acquainted with this handsome blackbird, with red and orange epaulettes on his shoulders, who has just returned, from the South. ”Ke, kong-ker-ee,” he flutes from the willows and alders about the reedy meadows where he and his bachelor friends flock together and make them ring “with social cheer and jubilee.” A little later, flocks of dingy, brown, streaked birds, travelling northward, pause to rest in the marshes. Wholesale courting takes place shortly after and every red-wing in a black uniform chooses one of the plain, streaked, matter-of-fact birds for his mate. The remainder continue their unmaidenly journey in search of husbands, whom they find waiting in cheerful readiness in almost any marsh. By the first of May all have settled down to home life.
Then how constant are the rich, liquid, sweet o-ka-lee notes of the red-wing! Ever in foolish fear for the safety of his nest, he advertises its whereabouts in musical headlines from the top of the nearest tree, or circles around it on fluttering wings above the sedges, or chucks at any trespasser near it until one might easily torture him by going straight to its site.
But how short-lived is this excessive devotion to his family! In July, the restless young birds flock with the mothers, but the now indifferent fathers keep apart by themselves. Strange conduct for such fussy, solicitous birds! They congregate in large numbers where the wild rice is ripening and make short excursions to the farmers’ fields, where they destroy some grain, it is true, but so little as compared with the quantity of injurious insects and weed seed, that the debt is largely in the red-wings’ favour.