Females Are Here

The Red-winged Blackbird females arrived around the beginning of March. They’re not yet here in large numbers, but it doesn’t take many of them to get the males excited. As we saw earlier, some of the males were aroused in January already, weeks before any females showed up. These blackbirds nest in the fennel forests on the west and north sides of the park. The winter fennel was too bare to afford cover for their nests. By this time, fresh fennel has grown at least knee high amidst last year’s stalks, providing a dense if low habitat for the important work of reproduction.

The males, obviously, are black with red epaulets. The females are a bit smaller, and are a streaky brown with a wash of pale eyebrows, a subtle touch of yellow or orange around the bill, but no showy red feathers anywhere.

P.S. I took these images on March 14. I was standing on the edge of the fennel forest on the north side, filming, when I heard a crashing noise in the fennel behind me. Two medium size dogs suddenly emerged, surprising me greatly. They brushed past my legs and headed down toward the water. In the distance I could hear female voices yelling. The dogs and I were at least 100 yards outside the unfenced dog park (“Off Leash Area”). After some minutes, one of the dogs returned from the water’s edge — a few yards from the seasonal Burrowing Owl’s spot — and ran up the hill toward the dog park. See photo below.

Illegally off-leash dog near Blackbird nesting territory

I mention this because on the 17th, 18th, and 19th, there was no Red-winged Blackbird presence in the northwest quadrant of the park. No males, no females, no tweeting. This absence is absolutely extraordinary at this time of year. I don’t know the explanation and hope that this silence is temporary. I do know that the blackbirds build their nests in the fennel, some nests about knee high, and they build some nests on the ground. Seeing a couple of dogs crashing through their nesting habitat could have been profoundly disturbing to these birds.

P.S. Wednesday March 20. The blackbirds are back. I saw a female and half a dozen males. Things seem back to normal. Sigh of relief. Here is a male showing his stuff:

Red-winged Blackbird male

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