Red-winged Blackbird

A male Red-winged Blackbird perches on a fencepost near Jack's Lake on the floor of Bear Valley.

Toshimi Kristof took this photo of a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) as it was perched on a fencepost near "Jack's Lake" on the floor of Bear Valley.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds are unmistakable, shiny black birds with shoulder epaulettes consisting of a red patch bordered with a smaller yellow edge. These are birds that tend to prefer marshy and meadow areas, typically nesting in tules, cattails and other tall vegetation found around lakes and ponds.

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are much plainer, a heavily streaked grayish-brown like the color of weathered lumber. This helps them blend in with their surroundings better when incubating eggs on her nest and caring for her young.

Male Red Wings aren't usually interested in blending in, and they call throughout the day, fluffing their colorful shoulder patches as they open their mouths to sing for maximum visibility.

The male's call is often described as "conk-la-ree!" and starts with a single note that turns into a upward trilling. The Nuwä Indian word for Red-winged Blackbirds is wokoli'ib, which is an onomatopoetic approximation of the sound that the males make. It is pronounced woh-koh-LEE-ib. This familiar and distinctive song is an iconic sound of American wetlands.

Red-winged Blackbirds eat primarily insects during the warmer months and seeds when it is too cold for insects. They form large flocks in the winter, and may mix with their relatives, including Brewer's Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

NATURAL SIGHTINGS is a regular feature of the Tehachapi News edited by Jon Hammond which showcases photos of the natural beauty that enhances the quality of life in Tehachapi. If you have a good quality image of plants, animals, insects, trees, birds, weather phenomena, etc., taken in the Tehachapi area, you may submit it to the Tehachapi News for possible publication. Submissions can be dropped by the News office in the form of a print or CD, or sent by email to: editorial@tehachapinews.com.