One of the loveliest sounds you hear out in the empty, expansive marshes down Bayou Liberty is the sweet, trilling song of the Redwing Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). While the invisible wind rustles the tall grass, their song fills the air from every direction. As far as the eye can see many of these birds are flitting about or perching high as they can to mind their territory and make the marsh both their home and hunting ground. I was surprised and pleased to hear their welcome music and see masses of them this week at Camp Salmen. They were in the company of their silent, wall-eyed partners, the bobbing red-breasted Robins. Both were feeding in the trees and on the lawns.
It may be the dead of winter, on a cold, grey day the world does indeed appear dull and dead, but encouraging signs of the upcoming spring are everywhere — Red Maple blossoms, sprouting green irises and waves of the earliest migratory birds chatter their way through the neighborhood. A certain number of Redwings stay right here year ‘round, as in the aforementioned marsh, but a certain number of them yo-yo annually up and down the continent, feeding on seed left over from the last fall and following what the new warmth of the season provides as they make their way back to their northern summer homes.
The glossy black Redwing males are easy to recognize because of the flashing diagonal red and yellow bars on their shoulders, and of course, their call. The mostly monogamous females in their company are slightly smaller and a brownish black with white streaks on their breast.
These birds are of the passerine type, the most popular bird design on the planet, accounting for over half of all the bird species. They are laid out like your standard bird. Although they all don’t sing, they are generally known as the songbirds. Down their throat is a piece of equipment called a syrinx, the avian equivalent of vocal cords, the manipulation of which allows them to make a wide variety of beautiful (think whippoorwills) and not so beautiful sounds (think crows).
They are also known for being good at perching, having three toes fore and one toe aft below each skinny leg, plus they possess a good sense of balance.