M. Kathy Raines
Conk-la-ree! Conk-la-ree!” The shrill, liquid burbling of migrating male red-wings—scarlet epaulets aflame—fills the air from mid-March to early May, ushering in the many delights of late springtime in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Your backyard is so noisy,” laughed my neighbor. Yes, it was. Wave after a successive wave of red-wings not only gobbled up birdseed—muscling out all but the hefty doves—but for over a month, their shrill gurgling engulfed the sound space, with even grackle shrieks and kiskadee whines relegated to background music.
Then suddenly the air was void of red-wing songs. By early May, most males had departed, save for a few straggling juveniles, with their duller, mottled colors.
Males first arrive on northern breeding grounds to select and defend turf. The more subtly colored females, which resemble large sparrows, stop here to rest and refuel a week or two later.
Not all red-winged blackbirds migrate; many breed in the Valley. But, unlike in wetter regions, where they nest in fields and meadows as well as salt and freshwater marshes, our blackbirds confine themselves exclusively to wetlands.
Year-round, as dependably as seagulls squawking on the shore, red-wings’ cries pierce the air along Laguna Madre’s mudflats and mangrove forests. They breed throughout much of Canada, Mexico and most of the continental United States. Migrants winter in southern states or southwards into Central America.
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