For nature lovers, Jim Gain’s Reflections of the Natural World is like a field trip into exotic regions where birds are revealed in all their glorious splendor. We’re proud to publish his series, “Learn 100 Common Valley Birds.” See more of Jim’s fine work here. ed.
Red-winged Blackbird #49
The Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a common species found in the Central Valley of California. Males have striking black plumage with bright red and yellow shoulder patches, while females are brown and streaked. Both sexes have a sharply pointed bill and a long, conical tail.
Red-winged Blackbirds are highly adaptable and can be found in a wide range of habitats, including wetlands, marshes, fields, and even urban areas. They are known for their distinctive “conk-la-ree” song and territorial displays, where males puff up their red shoulder patches to attract mates and deter competitors.
During breeding season, males establish territories and build nests in dense vegetation near water sources. Females lay 3-5 eggs, which they incubate for about 11-13 days. Young birds fledge after 10-15 days, and parents may raise 2-3 broods per season. Red-winged Blackbirds are omnivorous, feeding on insects, seeds, and small animals. They are important ecological indicators and can serve as bioindicators of wetland health.
Tricolored Blackbird #50
The Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) is a medium-sized, sexually dimorphic bird species that is endemic to California. The male Tricolored Blackbird has a striking appearance with a jet black plumage, bright red shoulder patches, and a white stripe on its wings, whereas the female is mostly brown with a paler underside. These birds usually breed in large colonies and their nesting sites are often found in cattail marshes, freshwater wetlands, and grasslands of the Central Valley of California.
The breeding season of Tricolored Blackbirds typically occurs between March and June, during which males engage in competitive displays to attract females. The females lay 3-5 eggs and both parents take turns incubating them for around two weeks. After hatching, the chicks are fed by regurgitation until they fledge around three weeks later. The Tricolored Blackbird is considered a facultative brood parasite, which means they sometimes lay their eggs in other Tricolored Blackbird nests to increase their reproductive success. Unfortunately, the population of Tricolored Blackbirds has declined drastically in recent decades due to habitat loss and fragmentation, making it a conservation priority for the State of California.
Brewer’s Blackbird #51
The Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus) is a medium-sized passerine bird native to North America. The male Brewer’s Blackbird has a glossy black plumage with a distinctive iridescent sheen that varies from green to purple depending on the angle of light. The female Brewer’s Blackbird is dark brown with a slightly lighter belly and has a shorter tail compared to the male. Both sexes have yellow eyes and a long, sharp bill.
In the Central Valley of California, Brewer’s Blackbirds are common year-round residents, often seen foraging on the ground in agricultural fields, pastures, and open grasslands. They feed on a variety of insects, seeds, and fruits, and are known to follow large mammals like cows and horses to catch insects disturbed by their movement. During breeding season, males engage in an elaborate courtship display that involves puffing up their feathers, spreading their wings, and singing a complex song. They build their nests in shrubs, trees, or on man-made structures and lay 3-5 eggs per clutch. Brewer’s Blackbirds are known for their adaptability and have successfully colonized urban and suburban areas as well.
BONUS BIRD – Yellow-headed Blackbird
The Yellow-headed Blackbird is a striking bird that can be found in the Central Valley of California. These birds are known for their bright yellow heads, contrasting with their black bodies, wings, and tails. Adult males have a distinctive white patch on their wings that is visible when they are in flight. Females have a duller plumage, with brownish-black bodies and paler yellow heads.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds breed in marshes and wetlands, where they build their nests in cattails or other emergent vegetation. They are colonial nesters and will often form large colonies with other blackbirds, such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds. During breeding season, males defend their territories and perform elaborate courtship displays to attract females.
These birds are primarily insectivorous, feeding on a variety of insects, spiders, and other invertebrates. They will also eat seeds and grains, particularly during the non-breeding season. Unfortunately, Yellow-headed Blackbirds are declining in many parts of their range due to habitat loss and degradation. Conservation efforts are underway to protect and restore wetland habitats to support these beautiful birds.