01.12.20: Calling blackbird

Part of the San Diego skyline can be seen beyond the arched exit from Santa Fe Depot, the train station in San Diego.

A male Red-winged Blackbird calls from a plant stem in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

‍Tech specs

  • Date/time: April 29, 2007, 8:47 a.m.
  • Location: 40°6'49.739" N 82°57'30.499" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 20D
  • Lens: Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 
  • Aperture: f/7.1
  • Shutter: 1/400th second
  • ISO: 400

A loud sign of the arrival of spring

‍A sure sign of spring in Central Ohio is the return of the Red-winged Blackbird. And it's a very noisy return, with the male blackbirds perched atop plants or trees attempting to attract females by flashing their red-and-yellow shoulder patches while belting out a call described by bird web sites as a loud, scratchy conk-a-reeeee or o-ka-leeeee.

‍I have a number of photos of male Red-winged Blackbirds calling on spring mornings, like this one taken in a park north of Columbus, Ohio. The birds are so focused on their song that they pay little attention to me with my camera.

‍While the loud and flashy male Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to spot, the females are more subdued, with streaky brown feathers that blend with the fields where they nest. Some bird books describe the female as looking like a large, dark sparrow. The females often stay hidden in the underbrush or near ground level in fields, looking for food and working on nests. 

‍Juvenile blackbirds have streaky brown feathers very similar to the female, although the ones I've seen tend to have a buff or yellow tinge on the face and on the tips of some feathers. The best indicator that the bird I'm photographing is a juvenile and not a female is when mom and dad hover just above my head attempting to scare me away. Junior remains perched, ignoring me with my camera and its parents’ efforts to protect their baby.

‍I know when the blackbirds show up in local parks it means colorful warblers, goldfinches and swallows aren't far behind. And my mornings photographing wildlife will be getting busier.

While the loud and flashy male Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to spot, the females are more subdued, with streaky brown feathers that blend with the fields where they nest.