McGILL BIRD OBSERVATORY

PHOTO LIBRARY

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoenicius)

 Seasonal status at MBO:

JAN
       
FEB
       
MAR
       
APR
       
MAY
       
JUN
       
JUL
       
AUG
       
SEP
       
OCT
       
NOV
       
DEC
       
  common
  fairly common
  uncommon
  rare
  occasional
  no records
 
QUICK TIPS:
1) In spring, sex can be easily determined by overall plumage - males are black and unstreaked, while females are brown and streaked

2) In fall, use wing chord to determine sex of juveniles - males are >110 mm, while females are <110 mm

3) In spring, examine the epaulettes - on ASY males they are red, on SY males they are orange and sometimes lightly spotted, on ASY females they may have a limited extent of dark red, and on SY females they are generally unmarked

4) Look at the underwing coverts - on HY/SY birds some feathers are usually pale brown and contrasting with surrounding darker feathers, while on AHY/ASY birds all underwing coverts are uniformly dark brown (females) or blackish (males)

Species account updated March 2009

Ageing and sexing guidelines:

January - July:

ASY - M
Jet black body plumage with prominent and solid red/orange and yellow epaulettes.
ASY - F
Streaky white and brown plumage with rusty-edged epaulettes and an orange/salmon wash around the face and throat.
SY - M
Black body plumage with variable amounts of beige scalloping throughout.  Epaulettes are usually orange with yellow and are spotted with black.
SY - F
Streaky white and brown plumage with little colour in the face or epaulettes.

-

June - December:

AHY - M
Black body feathers edged with brown.  Epaulettes are solid, bright red/orange and yellow.  
AHY - F
Streaky white and brown plumage, sometimes with rusty-edged epaulettes and a salmon wash around the face and throat.
HY - M
Blackish body plumage with variable amounts of beige scalloping throughout.  Epaulettes are usually orange with yellow and are spotted with black.
HY - F
Streaky white and brown plumage with little colour in the face or epaulettes.
 

Ageing and sexing details:

JAN - JUL:  after-second-year male

ASY males are usually jet black with prominent and red/orange and yellow epaulettes.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


The epaulettes, or shoulders, in an ASY M contain no trace of black.  They are solidly bright red or orange and yellow.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2006


Tails are not generally useful in ageing or sexing blackbirds.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2006

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JAN - JUL:  after-second-year female

Always be sure to measure the wing, as there are occasionally SY males that have undergone an unusually limited moult and closely resemble females.  Any female-looking bird with a wing measurement of over 112-113mm is not a female!  ASY females are streaked brown and white and usually have significant amounts of pink/salmon in the face and throat. Older females may have a significant amount of red on the shoulders, as shown in some of the examples below.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2006


 
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


ASY females often have quite a bit of rusty edging in the shoulder.  More importantly, there is no contrast between the greater underwing coverts and the adjacent feathers (shown below).  Also note the quality of the underwing coverts. There is very little wear, indicating an older bird.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008


 
Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Tails are not generally useful for ageing blackbirds.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JAN - JUL:  second-year male

Always be sure to measure the wing: there are SY males that may closely resemble females (e.g. third photo below).  Any female-looking bird with a wing measurement of over 112-113mm is actually a male!  SY males are blackish with variable amounts of beige scalloping.  As seen in these 3 photos, this variation can be quite significant.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


The epaulettes, or shoulders, are usually orange and yellow on second-year males and are spotted with black.  The underwing coverts should show a contrast between the greater underwing coverts and adjacent feathers. Note that occasionally, as in the second example below, it appears that some brown juvenile feathers are retained among the primaries and/or secondaries.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007


  Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008


  Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008


Tails are not generally important in ageing blackbirds.


Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JAN - JUL:  second-year female

SY females are, as with most species, the least colourful form, sporting brown and white streaked body plumage and very little to no colour in the shoulder, face or throat.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006


The underwing coverts should show a contrast between the greater underwing coverts and adjacent feathers.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), May 2008

 
Photo by Peter Pyle, Merrylea (IN), May 2007


Tails are not generally useful for ageing blackbirds.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), April 2006

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JUN - DEC:  after-hatch-year male

AHY males are usually black with brown-edged feathers.


 
Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2008


The epaulettes, or shoulders, are solid, bright red/orange and yellow.  Also, there should not be any contrast within underwing cover tracts.


  Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2008


 Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2008


Tails are not generally useful for ageing blackbirds.


 Photo by James Junda, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2008

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JUN - DEC:  after-hatch-year female

AHY females are streaky white and brown plumage with rusty-edged epaulettes and may have a faint orange/salmon wash around the face and throat, though some (such as the example shown) are quite pale.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), July 2006


AHY females often have quite a bit of rusty edging in the shoulder.  Also, there should not be any contrast between the greater underwing coverts and adjacent feathers. 


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), July 2006


Tails are not generally useful for ageing blackbirds.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), July 2006

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

 

JUN - DEC:  hatch-year male

Always be sure to measure the wing, as young males can resemble females.  Any female-looking bird with a wing measurement of over 112-113mm is not a female!  HY males after their prebasic moult have blackish body plumage with variable amounts of beige scalloping throughout.  As the prebasic moult may complete fairly late in fall, be sure to also consider juvenile plumage.


 
Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2006


  Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007


The epaulettes, or shoulders, are usually orange with yellow and are spotted with black.  The underwing coverts should show a contrast between the greater underwing coverts and adjacent feathers. Note that occasionally (as in the second photo below) some brownish juvenile secondaries or even primaries may be retained, and contrast conspicuously with adjacent black adult feathers.


 Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2006


  Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007


  Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007


Tails are not generally useful for ageing blackbirds. The photos below show the undertail and top of a typical hatch-year tail.


Photo by Marcel Gahbauer, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2006


  Photo by Barbara Frei, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), October 2007

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW

JUN - DEC:  hatch-year female

HY females are streaky white and brown with little to no colour in the epaulettes.  Beware that HY males prior to their preformative moult may appear similar, though they can usually be distinguished by wing length (males > 112 mm).  See also the juvenile account below.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007
 


The underwing coverts should show a contrast between the greater underwing coverts and adjacent feathers.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007
 


Tails are not generally important in ageing blackbirds.


Photo by Marie-Anne Hudson, McGill Bird Observatory (QC), August 2007

JUN - AUG:  juvenile

Juveniles of both sexes are brown and heavily streaked, much like HY/SY females.  If the wings are fully grown, their length can be used to identify the sex of most individuals (females < 107 mm, males > 112 mm; uncertain if between 108 and 111).



 


The wing is likely to uniformly brownish for most juveniles..  



 


Tails are not generally important in ageing or sexing blackbirds, but juveniles may have somewhat thinner and more pointed rectrices than older blackbirds.

RETURN TO AGE/SEX OVERVIEW 

2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.