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Red-Winged Blackbird: Striking Red on the Wing Keeps Territory

Red-Winged Blackbird: Striking Red on the Wing Keeps Territory
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My partner and I stealth camped our car after paddle boarding one night. As soon as we woke up at dawn, we drove to a day-use area to eat breakfast. Near Hot Sulfur Springs, Colorado, we found a nice spot away from the road on the Colorado River. As soon as we sat down, we looked across the river and spotted a red-winged blackbird.

At first, I thought we were watching a small crow until I saw a brief glimpse of red on the wing. This made me grab the camera and look closer through the lens. The closer look coupled with the distinct song, I knew that we saw the red-winged blackbird.

It flew back and forth along the opposite bank of the river. Another joined it and they called back and forth. After awhile, one flew to a snag on the same bank of the Colorado River as us. With not ideal lighting, I captured a few images of the red-winged blackbird. I could see the red patch as it moved around, but I had a hard time getting it with the camera.

Then, as I walked around, it flew to a nearby cedar sapling in the morning sunlight. It fiddled around on the top of the cedar, exposing the red shoulder on the wing. Below, a mix of grasses and reeds lined the river on either side.

Red-winged blackbird on cedar with forest background.
Red-Winged Blackbird perched.

Here are some cool facts to help you identify the Red-Winged Blackbird:



Red-Winged Blackbird General Characteristics:

  • 13 inch wingspan
  • Male is jet black with one patch of red on wing shoulders
  • Female is mottled brown with white and brown streaks on breast
  • Can eat farmed grain, but also eats farmed grain insect pests
  • Nests near water, sometimes over
  • Eats insects, seeds, some spiders
  • Very territorial, the red patch helps them gain territory within the blackbird community


  • Riparian areas in general
  • Marshes with nearby fields
  • Like to be near cottontails, tall weeds, and reeds
  • Can be near pastures


  • Widespread from Canada to Central America
  • East to West coasts of North America
  • Northern North American Red-Winged Blackbirds migrate

Red-Winged Blackbird & The Nature Journal

Two-page journal spread on the red-winged blackbird with a sketch, a photo, and text.
Two-page journal spread on the Red-Winged Blackbird

I knew for this spread, I needed a photo with the famed red-spot on the shoulder, so I started there. This is why I like to combine photography and sketching in my nature journal. Where one lacks, the other picks up the slack. I talk about this in the Basics of Nature Journaling.

For the sketch, I used one of the first photo on the snag to gain a sense of the shape of the red-winged blackbird. Because the photo had good view of the red spot, I wanted the perched shape to take form in the sketch.

Since I found out such cool facts about the red spot, the text took up a lot of space. I really found it fascinating that the red spot can help determine territories amongst their own species. I wanted these here for quick reference later on in my nature exploration journey. And, I tend to remember things better if I write them down. For great information, I used the National Geographic Bird Guide.

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Saturday 24th of October 2020

I saw some of those in Wyoming last year! Pretty neat!


Saturday 24th of October 2020

Yeah, they're definitely a good one to look for there. Especially around the Jackson area!

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