In early May of 1836, John James Audubon sights large numbers of the Red-winged blackbird at Galveston Island. The island off the Texas coast is visited by more kinds of birds than just about any other site in North America. Audubon notes most of the Red-winged blackbirds being females flying north to find a mate.

The male Red-winged blackbirds tend to migrate ahead of the females to stake out and defend a territory. The preferred habitat for nesting is usually open areas containing tall grasses, bushes, and other dense herbage. The black males are especially visible flashing their not just red but also yellow epaulettes. The females are more modest. They have dark feathers in the spring with no bright markings.

The Red-winged Blackbird as drawn by John James Audubon for his Birds of America.

If not seen, the males will make themselves heard. Their grating trill is sung practically throughout the day while perching from such plants as the flowering Red maple (Acer rubrum) that Audubon uses for his drawing of the Red-winged blackbird in Birds of America

The perfect flowers of the Red maple.
The perfect flowers of the Red maple (Acer rubrum).

In the fall, the male, female, and juvenile Red-winged blackbirds come together to form immense flocks and migrate south with the likes of Bobolinks, grackles, and cowbirds. Audubon remarks that these groups of birds are “in such immense and thick flocks as almost to cloud the sky.” Red-winged blackbirds can still muster up some very large numbers. On December 26, 1964, 40,000,000 Red-winged blackbirds supposedly showed up in Arkansas’s Pulaski County for the Little Rock Christmas Bird Count.