Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Tom Sheley)


The sounds are unmistakeable – a discordant chorus of soft chuckling noises like tongue-clicks as the RWTs flock into a bush, interrupted by harsh, metallic calls like rusty metal gate-hinges being forced open. Or maybe a lone bird mournfully repeating its eerie call from the mangroves far out on the Marls as the bonefishing skiffs slip silently along the shoreline. No other species sound quite like Agelaius phoeniceus.

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

The handsome males sport flashy epaulets, most clearly visible in flight or in display – for example to impress a prospective mate. Again, they are unlikely to be confused with another species.

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

The females, as is often the way, are less showy. I have just read that they are ‘nondescript’, which is unnecessarily harsh I reckon. Here are a couple of examples.

And the darker brown ones that are clearly not handsome black males? These are young males in their first season, before they move on to the full adult male plumage. Previously I had designated them females (as I had assumed) until very gently corrected by the legendary Bruce Hallett. Not only was Bruce an essential part in the production of the Birds of Abaco, he also keeps a benign eye on my posts and occasionally steps in to clarify IDs etc.  I took the first male juvenile at Casuarina, when I also made the sound recording (below). The second was at Delphi – and with some ‘light’ issues, I notice…

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Fledglings are kind of cute…Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Tom Sheley))


You may need to turn up the volume a bit. You will also here a lot of dove noise and, in the background, the sound of waves lapping onto the shore.

Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 4, 5, 8); Alex Hughes (3); Keith Salvesen (6, 7, 9 & audio)



  1. Hi HR. These guys are fun up here on Lake Erie. The males are so protective that their dive bombing humans along the lakefront are legendary. Nearby me is Huntington Beach which is so notorious for swiping at the heads of unsuspecting beach-goers that they sell T-shirts emblazened with these brave, and protective males.
    During Summer and Fall, they frequently drink their fill of Lake Erie within 3 or 4 meters of my chair-side repose


    • Hi Rick… I’ve not noticed such aggressive (assertive?) behaviour towards humans. I’d normally associate that with the breeding season / nest protection. You might think that they would see beach-goers as providers of food – bits of bread, burger, fries, whatever. ‘T-shirt immortalisation’ is not yet an ambition in the avian world… I would love to see them drinking in the lake, esp close-too & esp if I had my camera! Always good to hear from you. RH


  2. Hi Keith Just read your nice post on the RW Blackbirds. Just to be nosy, I did notice something that should be corrected, if you don’t mind. The two blackbird photos listed as females are actually immature males. The black feathers coming into the face and the coarse, dark streaking to the underparts are the distinguishing features. Female RW’s are paler in the face with no black but with a large supercilium and the underparts are light with light streaking. Check your field guides and I am sure they will show some of the differences. Don’t feel like you are the only one to do this – myself included. Best, Bruce Hallett



    • Hi Bruce, thanks v much for this correction. We see a lot of RWTs at Delphi in March – the males mixed in with what I assumed were females. S & I are going out in 10 days so I’ll be able to check out the RWTs in the field… Meanwhile, I have added 2 genuine females from Tom Sheley to the post, and rewritten accordingly. Very good to hear from you! K


  3. How very fortunate to have this beautiful bird at Abaco, RH. And you’re right, there’s no mistaking the mesmerizing vocalizations they make. I wasn’t able to get the audio recording to get past 0.00, however. Enjoyed the photos, adorable fledgling, great post.

    Liked by 1 person


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