Friday, June 5, 2015

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other...

Quiz time!  Name this bird.

If you said Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)congratulations on a job well done!  The Red-winged Blackbird is one of those birds that everyone should be able to identify on sight.  It is a bird with very distinctive features that allow easy identification in the wild - these features are known as "field marks".  The Red-winged Blackbird's field marks include shiny black feathers with a red (and yellow) patch on each shoulder.

Second quiz question:  What's the bird to the lower left of the Red-Winged Blackbird in this photo?

That is also a Red-Winged Blackbird.  Red-winged Blackbirds exhibit a property known as sexual dimorphism.  This means that there is a visible difference between the male and female members of the species.  Male Red-winged Blackbirds are the ones with the distinctive black feathers and red shoulder patches.  Female Red-winged Blackbirds are mottled brown and could easily be mistaken as large sparrows.  Occasionally a faint red patch can be seen on their shoulders.  This drab color scheme allows the females to blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators.  The males stand out more to predators, but they also stand out more to the females.  Bright colors on a male show that he is healthy and strong, therefore a better potential mate than one with less brilliant plumage.

Here are a couple of closer views of a female that I took last week during an outing with students.

Female Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbird with a beak full of dragonflies

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