Red-winged Blackbird; Agelaius phoeniceus (photo by Shannon Gavin)
Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most abundant birds across North America, and one of the most vividly coloured.
Different populations and subspecies of Red-winged Blackbirds vary noticeably in their markings and size.
An experiment was conducted which transplanted nestlings between populations, and discovered that the chicks grew up to resemble their foster family instead of their original parents (James 1982). This indicates that the external differences between populations is largely due to their different environments instead of different genetic makeups.
Look for the Red-winged Blackbird’s distinctive plumage the next time you are near a cattail marsh and other wetlands or driving through the country near telephone wires. Be careful not to overlook the females, whose less-flashy brown, streaky feathers closer resemble a sparrow.
James, F. (1982). The ecological morphology of birds: A review. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 19(4), 265-275. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/23734869