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A Tale of Two Birds:

Red-winged Blackbird and Dickcissel

Some of the first migrating birds that return to Greenwich Point

each spring are Red-winged Blackbirds. A few Red-wings may stay

year-round in our area, but most blackbirds in the northern latitudes

spend the winter in the southern U.S. In late February and March,

the males, easily recognized by their jet black bodies with bright

red-and-yellow wing patches, or epaulets, return to claim territories

in wetlands and grasslands. The female Red-winged Blackbirds,

which follow later in the season, look more like large, streaky

brown sparrows – all the better to hide in their grassy nests. Red-winged

Blackbird populations have declined from 1966 to 2019 by

about 28% but are still strong enough to be a species of low

conservation concern, according to Cornell Lab’s “All About Birds''

website. Although protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, many

migrating blackbirds have been poisoned or killed illegally in the

past as they stopped in large flocks to feed in agricultural fields.

Another bird that similarly has been persecuted for its role in

crop destruction, especially on its wintering grounds in Venezuela,

is the Dickissel. A common breeding bird of the central Great

Plains, the Dickcissel can be an erratic wanderer during migration.

We rarely get to see them at the Point. A member of the Cardinal

family, the Dickcissel more closely resembles a small meadowlark

or large sparrow with a splash of yellow on the breast. This

December, a single Dickcissel was observed for about a week,

eating seeds beneath the Holly Grove bird feeders. It not only

provided a treat for area birders, but also appeared at a time when

it could be counted for our region’s annual Christmas Bird Count, a

long-running community science survey of winter birds.If you would

like to learn more about local birds, join one of the First Sunday Bird

Walks that start near the main concession at 9am on the first Sunday

of each month. Bring your binoculars or ask for a loaner pair.

Red-winged Blackbird male


Cynthia Ehlinger

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