Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 26, 2008

The “Other” Red Wings

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 7:57 pm

                   

  Natural cycles are a grand thing. For the most part, things happen about the same way and at the same time every year.  For instance, it is end of April and the new green cat-tail shoots are about a foot tall, the fragrant water lilies are just poking their leafy heads up out of the water, and both of our Red Wing teams are reaching the high points of their season. Yes, both the hockey team and the birds are providing us with spring highlights once again – one seeks “Stanley” and the other seeks population security.

  I’ll leave it to others to discuss the Detroit Red Wings and their annual trophy quest, and instead focus my seasonal attention towards THE “original” red-wings – the Red-winged Blackbirds. My morning walk along the marsh boardwalk at Lake Erie Metropark brought me in close contact with a female Red-winged Blackbird (see above). Her behavior – sticking around, as opposed to taking off, combined with the issuance of a continual stream of obscenities in my direction– indicates that she had a nest nearby.   It is that time of year again.

  It’s worth pausing to admire the female red-wing on her own merits. She has a cryptic beauty that transcends the male attributes that are responsible for the species name.  The male is a glorious beast whose fiery epaulettes define the color red, but without the handsome little females on the team there would be no species. You could say that she represents the “other other” Red Wing.

  The female’s striped cream and brown coloration is a practical camouflage pattern meant to blend into the dead leafy landscape of the marsh. The area around her face and throat, however, has a nice salmon cast to it that lends a feminine air to her appearance (sometimes you have to say these kinds of things to keep women happy – I think). Some female red-wings even have a hint of red on their shoulders, but not this one. When sitting on the eggs or nestlings she will become invisible and that is the whole point of this color scheme. 

  Her mate delivered only a cursory warning in my direction and was more concerned with the other male birds than me. He has to fulfill his promise to the other females in his harem to keep this section of the marsh clear of competition. It was the lot of this particular female to deliberately make herself visible in order to protest my presence.  She did so with a series of raspy “kecks” where each utterance was accompanied by a tail pump. In so doing, she perched herself in that classic split-leg pose so typical of these birds (see here).

  Even though I could not locate the nest, I know it is positioned only a few feet above the water surface.  It is woven from shredded cat-tail leaves and supported by a framework of at least three dead cat-tail stalks. I know that it blends well into the background from which it was made.  I also know that she has, or soon will have, a clutch of powder blue eggs to care for. Each egg will be randomly decorated with a pattern of dark spackling (see here).

  I look forward to the day when I will finally spot the nest and can watch her raise a brood and complete another successful season. I am less confident that the other Red-wings will successfully complete their season, but, like I said, I leave that grist for the sport bloggers to grind.

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