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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Red-Wing Blackbirds

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Missouri Department of Conservation
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The male red-winged blackbird defends his territory.

Discover nature this week with Missouri's red-winged blackbirds.

A stake-out requires being inconspicuous, but not so for red-winged blackbirds. Showing off and making noise is the main objective of their stake-out.

Male red-winged blackbirds have already staked-out their territories in wetlands and around ponds and lakes. Their red-and-yellow shoulder patches add glints of color to the landscape – and they won’t hesitate to pump up their color and volume, either. When other birds invade the red-wing’s territory, he spreads his tail, fluffs his feathers, and belts out his gurgling song about twice as loud as any other bird song.

In February and March, male red-wings travel north from their southern wintering grounds and find good spots for nesting and feeding. They eat seeds at this time, and can endure a cold snap, unlike insect-eaters whose food source is wiped out by a freeze. Before long, the pairs build nests of grasses and mud, weaving them in cattails or shrubs. They lay speckled, pale-green eggs which hatch in eleven days. You can usually see them perching on cattails near water.

The bird is also notorious for being aggressive. Several will often attack a larger bird, such as a hawk or crow, that flies over their nesting area. To defend his territory and attract a mate, the male red-winged blackbird perches on a high stalk with feathers fluffed out and tail partly spread. He lifts the leading edge of his wing so his red shoulder patches are prominent, and sings. When they are being territorial, it is recommended to stay away from the area for safety.

More information about red-winged blackbirds in Missouri can be found online at MissouriConservation.org.

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