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RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD. Agelaius phoeniceus
♂ 9.51 - ♀ 8.00 in.

Ad. ♂.— Entire plumage black, showing in flight a bright scarlet patch edged with buff and white, at the bend of the wing; often only the white edging shows when the wing is closed. Ad. ♀ and Im.— Brown, everywhere streaked; throat often buffy.

Nest, of grasses and weed-stalks, in a low bush or on a tussock of sedge. Eggs, pale blue, scrawled and spotted with dark purple or black.

The Red-winged Blackbird is a common summer resident of the Hudson Valley and of southern and central New York; in northern New England, especially on the upland, it is much less common. Occasionally a few Red-wings winter in the marshes near Boston, and may do so in favorable localities in southern New England. The male arrives early in March, but it is often three weeks before the female joins him. When the young are full grown, the breeding birds depart and are rarely seen after August. Flocks of northern migrants often arrive in September and linger till October, and on mild days sing in chorus, though without the vigor of spring.


Red-winged Blackbird, Female.

At first, while the marshes are still cold, the hillsides are visited by flocks of males, and here they may often be seen feeding on the ground with Robins, or in a noisy chorus on some tree near by. The song has a liquid opening-note, and ends in a ree or ray, long prolonged; when uttering it, the male spreads his wings and shows his blazing scarlet epaulets. When a flock are singing, the liquid notes form a musical undertone to the shriller ree, the whole suggesting the music of waters. Besides the song, the species has a rather heavy chuck, used as a call-note, and a long, rather pure whistle, constantly heard in the marshes in early summer, and often followed by a series of staccato scolding-notes, and in midsummer a loud nasal dissyllabic note, suggesting the cry of the nighthawk. The birds are intolerant of intrusion, and gather round a visitor with much expostulation. They also attack and escort away any large birds — hawks, crows, and even inoffensive bitterns.

A male Red-wing is easily told by his scarlet wing-patch or even by its white edging, which shows when the wings are closed. A female differs from the other blackbirds in the heavy streaking above and below. (See Rusty Blackbird)

[BROWN-HEADED] COWBIRD. Molothrus ater
♂ 7.92 - ♀ 7.50 in.

Ad. ♂.—Head, neck, and upper breast rich brown (at a distance the bird seems entirely black); rest of plumage iridescent black. Ad. ♀ and Im.— Entire plumage brownish-gray, unstreaked.

Nest, none, the eggs being laid in the nests of other birds. Eggs, white, evenly speckled with brown.

The Cowbird is a summer resident of New York and New England, but is rare in the hilly country of northern New England, and entirely absent from the unsettled forest regions. It arrives late in March or early in April. In late summer or early autumn the Cowbird is either absent or else occurs in large flocks, which occasionally linger through October. Cowbirds have several times been found in New York and New England in winter.

In spring flocks of two or three, or more, fly about in a restless fashion, and attract attention by a long, high whistle, followed by two shorter, lower notes. The bird's flight is unsteady, and it looks distinctly smaller on the wing than the Red-winged Blackbird, with which it often associates. When the flock lights on trees, the males spread wings and tail, lift the latter, extend the neck, and follow these absurd gestures by a feeble squeak. Both sexes have a harsh chatter. They make no nest, and by laying in the nest of smaller birds, force them to bring up their young. The young Cowbird is brownish-gray, and generally larger, by the time it leaves the nest, than the foster-parent that is feeding it.

In summer Cowbirds are often seen following cattle about, walking on the ground. They can then be readily distinguished from the much larger Crow Blackbirds by the short, stout bill, by the reddish-brown head of the male, and by the grayish-brown females in the flock. (See under Rusty Blackbird.)

Ad. ♂.— Nape buffy-white; shoulders and lower back white; otherwise black. Ad. ♀.— Upper parts brown, streaked; under parts yellowish-brown, unstreaked; line over eye and line through crown buffy. ♂ in August and Im.— similar to female, but yellower.

Nest, placed on the ground in some tuft of grass or weeds. Eggs, white, blotched with brown.

The Bobolink is a common summer resident throughout New England and New York, wherever there is grass-land, though absent apparently from Cape Cod, and local in the vicinity of New York city. It arrives early in May, and stays till September. It breeds in mowing-land of grass or clover, and at the edges of grassy marshes. Here the males through May and June pour forth their rollicking song, either from the tops of the neighboring trees, or from some bending weed, or tuft of grass. Often they sing in the air, either gliding with curved wings or chasing each other furiously over the field. About the first week in July the young ones leave the nest, and now the song of the males ceases abruptly. If one approaches the grass where a young one is hiding, both parents hover near, uttering a chuck of alarm, flying from one perch to another, spreading the tail nervously. Towards the end of July the males begin to lose the black-and-white plumage; it is replaced by a dress similar to the female's, but yellower. About this time old and young gather in large flocks, which roost each night in the long grass of some low meadow. As they pass to and fro they utter a mellow chink, which is one of their ordinary call-notes; this note may be heard at night in August and early September from migrant flocks.

The young birds and the males in autumn may be known by their unstreaked yellowish under parts, and by the buffy line over the eye; in spring the presence of the brightly marked males will often help one to identify the plain-colored females.


Bobolink, Female

[BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE]. Quiscalus major

While you can find Boat-tailed Grackles on Long Island, NY, this species is more commonly found along the US Atlantic coast, south of the area of this book. That's probably why Hoffmann didn't include it in the book.

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