Sunday, April 3, 2011

Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds

A large snowdrift pushed up against the back of our house; just another thing to look forward to in a Northern Illinois winter, Rockford, IL; 2/2/11

Three other birds that I have often thought migrated south away from Northern Illinois are the Red-winged Blackbird, the Common Grackle and the Brown-headed Cowbird. However several bird guidebooks state that they can spend the winter in our area. For myself, I have never seen any of these three from November through February.  Usually mid to late march will be the first I see any of these.

I have seen many Red-winged Blackbirds (Above) since mid March, but I never see them between October and March. But according to several bird guide books, they may spend the winter in northern Illinois, as well as pretty much the entire U.S. except for the northern regions of the midwest states (Wisconsin, N.Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan) and much of the Northeast. In summers they will spread their range into all of the U.S. plus most of Canada.
A Red-winged Blackbird BIF, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; Rockford IL.
A Red-winged Blackbird, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/2/10.

A Common Grackle at my backyard feeder, Rockford, IL; 3/28/10.
The Common Grackle (Above) will be found throughout most of the U.S. east of the Rockies (including the Rockies), but in winter they will limit their range to the Midwest, Southeast, and Central Atlantic states. Again, like the Red-winged Blackbird, eventhough they are considered year round residents, I didn't see them all winter and just within the past two weeks they have been arriving in Northern Illinois by the droves. These Grackles are quite long at slightly over a foot. Their irridescent feathers will change colors depending on the angle of light hitting them.
A Brown-headed Cowbird, Rockford, IL; 4/2/10.

Brown-headed Cowbirds (Above) are  another bird that is considered year-round residents, but I also never see them in winter months. These Cowbirds are not considered friendly birds to have around, as the adults lay their eggs in other birds' nests and force them to raise their young. Often times the young Brown-headed Cowbird will take all the food brought by the nest's mother and crowd the other young out of the nest altogether. In summers Brown-headed Cowbirds can be found liteally from coast to coast thoughout the entire North American continent, except for Alaska and extreme northern Canada. In winter they will limit themselves to both coasts and throughout much of the lower half of the U.S. stretching north to Northern Illinois, Indiana, and into Massachusettes.


Chesney said...

For how annoying these birds can be, they sure have some great color against that black!

Anonymous said...

I have not seen a grackle in Freeport, Illinois since '09. I have seen cowbirds, starlings, and red wings.

Please advise, ------- D.G.

jon said...

I don't know what kind of advice to give you. I am not a bird expert. Being just a an half hour east from you, they certainly are common in our area. The little bit of reading that I have done about grackles point to humans as their biggest eneemy - especially farmers who categorize grackles as pests in their grain fields. Also foxes and raccoons feed off of birds eggs and young, and Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds nests, where the Cowbirds' young then crowd the other birds' young out of the nest. Perhaps it is a combination of all these, or they are around, but aren't out in the open, but this seems unlikely as they tend to feed out in the open.