Bird from Home | Red-wing Blackbird

I spotted this hashtag, #BirdFromHome on Instagram. The idea is a perfect match with how I find myself spending a lot of time lately… Birding. This Audubon Society project aims to highlight the beauty of nature that can be seen right outside our own windows and yards. 

This post will be the first in a series that adopts that idea, Bird From Home, to inspire my blog. I’m looking forward to sharing images and thoughts about the birds I observe around our home.

Red-wing Blackbirds are by no means strangers in our yard. However, they are most often seen only as bursts of energy. These active birds usually touchdown on a branch or tuft of grass for a moment and, then, quickly take off in flight to another location.

Last night was different, this bird remained on same perch for a very long time… about 30 minutes. I was able to take a series of shots that show this handsome fellow busy preening and singing out territory reminders. The images were all shot from my driveway looking out over our acre of wetland “front yard.”

I have a book new to my collection of nature guides: Guide to Bird Behavior : Volume One , by Donald Stokes. I think it will be a good tool to help me understand what I’ve captured in some of my photos.

He recommends considering three kinds of information to discover and interpret bird behavior:

  • Timing of the bird’s life stage
  • Knowledge of the displays used to communicate with other birds
  • Details of major behavior patterns

A chart in the book tells me that this time of year male Red-wing Blackbirds establish territory. They also begin courtship and nest building.

There were two displays described by Stokes that I observed: Songspread and bill-tilt.

Songspread

The bird arches forward, spreads it wings to the side, and exposes the red epaulets. Its tail may be bent down and spread. A call is a song by the male given during territory formation.

Songspread, given from prominent perches within the territory and usually directed at other males, in the period before the females arrive. The display is accompanied by the familiar ookalee song and can be given at varying intensities as indicated by how much is visible of the red epaulets. When the display is at its most intense the epaulets are fully exposed and are even vibrated.

Cut from book: page 277.
Songspread- low intensity. Wings and epaulets closer to body.
Songspread- increasing intensity. Wings and epaulets beginning to extend.
Songspread… a little more!
Magnificent! There he is at full song and spread.

Bill-tilt

Two birds near each other both lift their bills above the horizontal plane. The epaulets are exposed in the male version. After the display, one bird generally flies off while the other remains.

This behavior usually occurs between two males at the boundary of a territory.

Cut from book: page277

When another male flew in and perched nearby, the bird I was observing gave a bill-tilt and remained after the other bird flew away.

Preening

I have a feeling this bird stayed in one place primarily for preening, and displayed the intermittent songspread territory displays to remind other nearby males that he was grooming at “home.”

Feathers serve many purposes. They help to regulate body temperature, enable flight, and provide courtship displays.

When birds preen, feathers are:

  • groomed for top performance
  • aligned for optimum waterproofing and insulation, and aerodynamic shape for easier, more efficient flight
  • cleaned of parasites and body lice that can destroy feathers or carry disease
  • moisturized with preen oil so they are flexible and strong
  • healthier in appearance to attract a mate.

The remainder of my photos show some of the poses this Red-winged Blackbird struck as he worked around his body to care for his thousands of feathers. I watched as the bird used his beak and feet to preen feather on his body. This fellow worked methodically as he nibbled and stroked feathers all over his body.

I was fascinated when he started stretching. It was interesting to learn that extensive stretching helps provide space between each feather so the entire feather can be stroked and groomed effectively. Stretching or fluffing also helps birds align all their feathers after a section has been preened.

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