The many calls of the red-winged blackbird

by Rob

When Maria got to my car for me to pick her up after work this evening, she mentioned hearing a different sound that she didn’t recognize. Now, there are a ton of bird songs that neither of us know. Without a doubt, I’m in awe of birders who can identify the hundreds of calls and songs you might here in just one neighborhood.  However, here the singer was easy to spot perched upon the top of a light pole. Just a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Not that they aren’t a cool bird with their red and yellow shoulder patches that stand out against the rest of their black feathers. Hearing their konk-la-lee! song means spring is back. The males are pretty defensive about their territory at this time of year so you may also see them chasing rivals off. And wherever you find them, you’ll probably also find some water or a marshy ground where they build their nests among the cattails and sedges, or on higher ground in willow trees and other places.

But back to that call that Maria heard, it wasn’t the usual metallic (meaning not musical like a flute or whistle) trill (notes repeated too fast to count) song at all. It was downslurred, or descending in pitch. It was a short call though, not the usual territorial song. Looking it up, we found it was an alarm call. Guess he thought we were intruding on his parking lot! We also never knew how many different calls blackbirds have, and 12-20 alert calls not counting the songs and twitters. In fact, there’s quite a bit of regional variations too.

A number of other birds also have a huge repertoire of songs and calls.  Check out the many sounds that our seemingly ordinary robins and cardinals make! So next time you hear a bird song that you don’t recognize, look around before giving up on ID’ing it. It might end up being a bird you see every day.

Some cool resources to learn more:

An introduction to categorizing bird songs and calls,

And if you like this, I definitely recommend the book which also include the above intro:  Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds, by Nathan Pieplow,

Great details about red-winged blackbirds, and many others too, is at

Finally, check out the many articles and specieis guides at the National Audubon Society as well as their phone apps.

Cover image courtesy of

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