How to Identify Red Winged Blackbirds

Red-winged blackbirds are a common North American species, but look similar to other blackbirds, such as Brewer's blackbirds, or even grackles. This article helps identify and spot these beautiful birds.


  1. 1
    Know the red-winged blackbird's habitat. You can find them by walking near the shore of a lake or river, using binoculars or a scope to spot them. Check trees and shrubs along the water's edge. You can take a boat out as well, but always take proper caution while operating boats. Red-winged blackbirds are almost always found near water sources. They nest in reeds and plants ringing lakes and ponds, and will often be spotted on fences and trees near the water's edge.
  2. 2
    Identify them by their calls and appearance. Watch for birds flying above lakes with steady wingbeats, often calling while in flight, as these will be red winged blackbirds. Listen for a screeching, raspy call, possessed by both sexes. Remember that coloration may not be the best way to identify them until closer observation - these birds' coloration varies greatly by gender. Males are shiny black or brown, with brilliant red, yellow, or orange shoulders. The females are smaller and light brown, with white underparts, and darker brown streaks all over.
    • Walk near a place inhabited by red-wings. Watch the reeds and keep an eye out for a medium-sized black bird with red shoulders, as females are much harder to spot then males, as they are much less striking. Use a bird call app to attract birds if they are not easily spotted.
  3. 3
    Know the birds' size and body shape. Red-winged blackbirds are relatively small blackbirds, with short tails and obvious, blackbird wing-shape. They fly with constant flapping and short dives. They often "lean" when perching, instead of sitting upright. Males are much more identifiable then females due to their striking markings and color. There are occasionally records of leucistic birds, which are white with black speckling and red shoulders.
  4. 4
    Try drawing the birds to you. You can attract red-winged blackbirds by setting up several bird feeders, birdbaths, and feeding tables far from any human activity. Add a game camera on a nearby tree or pole to catch sight of the birds, or quietly watch with binoculars from far away. Check your feeder daily for at least an hour for best results.
    • Red-winged blackbirds are not common feeder birds, but ponds or birdbaths can attract them to your yard, and they will take birdseed off the ground and occasionally from a feeder. These birds prefer mealworms to birdseed, and need plenty of small trees and shrubs for cover to feel comfortable.
    • They are much more shy then Brewer's Blackbirds, and are wary of humans. This makes them difficult to approach without causing them to fly away.


  • When approaching birds, always go slowly and quietly. Red-winged blackbirds may be attracted with bird calls. Never call in a rare bird, especially during breeding season.

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Categories: Birdwatching