Red-winged blackbirds don’t exactly have the best reputation among the public given their extremely territorial behavior, particularly during breeding season. They’re loud, obnoxious and prone to attacking anything that gets too close.
But are they really “nature’s a—holes,” as once described by environmental science consultant Beth Kosson? She also compared them to “hard old-timey Jersey couples” where the female is egging on her man to “get ’em good” following a series of red-winged blackbird attacks on joggers in Chicago last summer.
After watching this video of an adult during an attempted murder of a red-winged blackbird fledgling at Whalon Lake earlier this month, you may agree with Kosson’s assessment.
They go to great lengths — and heights — to defend their territory. Take, for example, this incredible sequence of photos posted to the Illinois Birding Network Facebook Group featuring a red-tailed hawk and a red-winged blackbird.
While it may appear the red-winged blackbird is “hitching a ride,” it really was just doing whatever it could to chase the hawk out of its territory.
“Blackbirds really aren’t hitching rides,” said Chris Gutmann, Forest Preserve supervisor at Isle a la Cache Museum. “As soon as the red-tail feels the blackbird, it will buck the blackbird off.”
With attacks on humans, other species of birds and its own kind well documented, could these birds be considered the meanest ones you’ll encounter in the preserves?
“’Mean’ is probably a misleading term for them,” said Gutmann, who admitted he’s been “escorted” out of a red-wing blackbird’s territory numerous times. It’s not hard to find yourself in their territory, considering they are one of the most abundant birds in North America.
He compares them to a blue jay, also thought of as “mean.”
“But they’re actually highly intelligent and, accordingly, they can be opportunistic,” Gutmann said of blue jays. “Even then, their incidences of nest raiding are overblown.”
So while red-winged blackbirds may have more of a reputation for being jerks thanks to their large population and an increased chance of encountering one, they’re not the only ones doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone knows where they stand in the pecking order of nature.
“I’d worry far more about approaching a great horned owl nest than a red-winged blackbird,” Gutmann said.
And for good reason.