These male Red-winged Blackbirds have staked out the tallest branches of fennel in their neighborhood, and are advertising their advantages as potential mates. There’s only one problem: no females. The females usually come to a site at least a week or two after the males, and may not come at all until nesting conditions, in their opinion, are just right. That may require fresh new fennel growing in the fennel forest, where old dry stalks now dominate. A nest in the old forest is just too visible and vulnerable; fresh new fennel creates a dense curtain that screens and protects the fledglings. It may be March before that happens.
I saw three males in the fennel forest on the north side, and three or four others, including one juvenile, in the fennel on the western ridge, just north of the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar. They had plenty of energy, and kept up a brisk call-and-response chorus. How long can they persist, absent female companionship? In past years, I’ve seen repeated advance teams of males come early, stay a few days, and depart again.
When the males put their all into a call, their red epaulets stand up like little fires on their shoulders. That’s supposed to impress the females and get them excited. Looking at the photo below, I can see why. He’s HOT!