May 24 2012
Every spring male red-winged blackbirds make sure they are large and loud. If they do it right, they look like this.
The goal is to obtain the very best nesting territory and attract the most mates. Yes, red-winged blackbirds are polygamous. The winners have large harems, up to 15 wives.
The males compete by display and song. With feathers fluffed, epaulets raised, wings curved down, and tail lowered, they sing from a perch or flutter slowly over their domain.
The male looks large on purpose. The smaller males are losers even if they have large, red epaulets.
How does a male red-winged blackbird make himself look like this?
I paused to watch one do it at Magee Marsh early this month. Standing on the ground he shook his body side-to-side like a wet dog shedding water. Every few shakes he paused to allow his feathers to stand out a little more. His black body grew bigger and shinier. His red epaulets stood up like shields.
Armed and ready, like a black spaceship with red headlights, he flew to his perch and sang.
(photo by Len Blumin from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original)