It seems like every year Toronto based media gets into a tizzy about Red-winged Blackbirds attacking residents, with Liberty Village being the 2019 aerial attack hotspot.
BlogTO says a Blackbird is “terrorizing” the neighbourhood, as yellow police tape cordons off the area. In 2018, CTV News described the birds as a “menace” in their headline about a spate of “attacks”. Some city parks display signs that warn visitors that birds may exhibit aggressive behaviour after a number of people whinged to the 311 city helpline.
So what is going on?
Quite simply, Red-winged Blackbird survival and success is reliant upon the territory that they claim. As is the fate with many animals, humans are responsible for removing an ever-increasing amount of habitat.
In the northern reaches of their range (which would include Canada), these birds are migratory. To avoid our winter conditions they will travel south. They will return to Canada in time for Spring, but the males and females will generally arrive at different times.
Most people are familiar with the males which are all black in colour save for their red and yellow patches, called epaulets, on their wings. The female (pictured) is a pattern of light and mostly darker browns. She is less territorial and therefore less conspicuous.
The males arrive first, around early-to-mid March in the Toronto area. A few weeks later, the females will begin arriving and they will be looking for a mate. One of the main criteria for selecting a male is the territory that male has secured during those early weeks. These birds are polygynous and so a male Red-winged Blackbird who is able to defend a good piece of territory may have the opportunity to mate with up to 10 females who are somewhat loyal to him.
Red-winged Blackbirds prefer wetlands and marshes, where they nest amongst Cattails and rushes. Next time you are dive-bombed by a Red-Winged Blackbird, it might be worth asking yourself a couple of questions:
Where have all the wetlands and marshes have gone?
Where are those 10 lucky females?
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