Birds Vol 1 #2 – The Red-Wing Black Bird

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) - Birds Illustrated

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – Birds Illustrated

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. February, 1897 No. 2




“I could not think so plain a bird
Could sing so fine a song.”

One on another against the wall
Pile up the books—I am done with them all;
I shall be wise, if I ever am wise,
Out of my own ears, and of my own eyes.

One day of the woods and their balmy light—
One hour on the top of a breezy hill,
There in the sassafras all out of sight
The Blackbird is splitting his slender bill
For the ease of his heart:
Do you think if he said
“I will sing like this bird with the mud colored back
And the two little spots of gold over his eyes,
Or like to this shy little creature that flies
So low to the ground, with the amethyst rings
About her small throat—all alive when she sings
With a glitter of shivering green—for the rest,
Gray shading to gray, with the sheen of her breast
Half rose and half fawn—
Or like this one so proud,
That flutters so restless, and cries out so loud,
With stiff horny beak and a top-knotted head,
And a lining of scarlet laid under his wings—”
Do you think, if he said, “I’m ashamed to be black!”
That he could have shaken the sassafras-tree
As he does with the song he was born to? not he!
—Alice Cary.

“Do you ne’er think what wondrous beings these?
Do you ne’er think who made them—who taught
The dialect they speak, where melodies
Alone are the interpreters of thought?
Whose household words are songs in many keys,
Sweeter than instrument of man ere caught!
Whose habitation in the tree-tops even
Are half-way houses on the road to heaven!

* * * * * * *

“You call them thieves or pillagers; but know,
They are the winged wardens of your farms,
Who from the cornfields drive the insidious foe,
And from your harvest keep a hundred harms;
Even the blackest of them all, the crow,
Renders good service as your man-at-arms,
Crushing the beetle in his coat of mail,
And crying havoc on the slug and snail.”
—From “The Birds of Killingworth.”

Red-winged Blackbird at S. Lake Howard Nature Pk. by Lee

Red-winged Blackbird at S. Lake Howard Nature Pk. by Lee


The blackbirds make the maples ring
With social cheer and jubilee;
The redwing flutes his o-ka-lee.—Emerson.

imgtHE much abused and persecuted Red Wing Black Bird is found throughout North America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and it breeds more or less abundantly wherever found. In New England it is generally migratory, though instances are on record where a few have been known to remain throughout the winter in Massachusetts. Passing, in January, through the lower counties of Virginia, one frequently witnesses the aerial evolutions of great numbers of these birds. Sometimes they appear as if driven about like an enormous black cloud carried before the wind, varying every moment in shape. Sometimes they rise suddenly from the fields with a noise like thunder, while the glittering of innumerable wings of the brightest vermillion, amid the black cloud, occasion a very striking effect. At times the whole congregated multitude will suddenly alight in some detached grove and commence one general concert, that can plainly be distinguished at the distance of more than two miles. With the Redwings the whole winter season seems one continued carnival. They find abundant food in the old fields of rice, buckwheat and grain, and much of their time is spent in aerial movements, or in grand vocal performances.

The Redwings, for their nest, always select either the borders of streams or low marshy situations, amongst thick bunches of reeds. One nest was found built on a slender sapling at the distance of fourteen feet from the ground. The nest was pensile, like that of the Baltimore Oriole.

They have from one to three or more broods in a season, according to locality.

In the grain growing states they gather in immense swarms and commit havoc, and although they are shot in great numbers, and though their ranks are thinned by the attacks of hawks, it seems to have but little effect upon the survivors.

On the other hand, these Black Birds more than compensate the farmer for their mischief by the benefit they confer in the destruction of grub worms, caterpillars, and various kinds of larvae, the secret and deadly enemies of vegetation. It has been estimated the number of insects destroyed by these birds in a single season, in the United States, to be twelve thousand millions.

The eggs average about an inch in length. They are oval in shape, have a light bluish ground, and are marbled, lined and blotched with markings of light and dark purple and black.


’Tis a woodland enchanted!
By no sadder spirit
Than blackbirds and thrushes,
That whistle to cheer it
All day in the bushes,
This woodland is haunted;
And in a small clearing,
Beyond sight or hearing
Of human annoyance,
The little fount gushes.—Lowell.


The blackbird loves to be one of a great flock. He talks, sings or scolds from morning until night. He cannot keep still. He will only stay alone with his family a few months in the summer. That is the reason he is called the “Bird of Society.” When he is merry, he gaily sings, “Conk-quer-ree.” When he is angry or frightened he screams, “Chock! Chock!” When he is flying or bathing he gives a sweet note which sounds like ee-u-u. He can chirp—chick, check, chuck, to his little ones as softly as any other bird. But only his best friends ever hear his sweetest tones, for the Blackbirds do not know how to be polite. They all talk at once. That is why most people think they only scream and chatter. Did you ever hear the blackbirds in the cornfields? If the farmers thought about it perhaps they would feel that part of every corn crop belongs to the Blackbirds. When the corn is young, the farmer cannot see the grubs which are eating the young plants. The Blackbirds can. They feed them to their babies—many thousands in a day. That is the way the crops are saved for the farmer. But he never thinks of that. Later when the Blackbirds come for their share of the corn the farmer says, “No, they shall not have my corn. I must stop that quickly.” Perhaps the Blackbirds said the same thing to the grubs in the spring. It is hard to have justice for everyone.

In April the Blackbird and his mate leave the noisy company. They seek a cosy home near the water where they can be quiet until August. They usually choose a swampy place among low shrubs and rushes. Here in the deep nest of coarse grass, moss and mud the mother bird lays her five eggs. They are very pretty—light blue with purple and black markings. Their friends say this is the best time to watch the blackbirds. In the flock they are all so much alike we cannot tell one from another. You would like to hear of some of the wise things Blackbirds do when they are tame.

One friend of the birds turned her home into a great open bird cage. Her chair was the favorite perch of her birds. She never kept them one minute longer than they wanted to stay. Yet her home was always full. This was Olive Thorne Miller. If you care to, you might ask mother to get “Bird Ways” and read you what she says about this “bird of society” and the other birds of this book.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) female by Ian

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) female by Ian

Lee’s Addition:

I combined the Blackbird and the Red Wing Blackbird together. The poems and some of the writing, combined them and only one photo was provided.

Today this bird is called the Red-winged Blackbird and they are in the Icteridae – Oropendolas, Orioles & Blackbirds Family, which has 108 species. We are fortunate here because we see Red-winged Blackbirds quite often and even have them stop by the feeders in our yard. I can always tell when they are near because of the male’s song. It is a loud, gurgling “conk-a-reeeee” or “o-ka-leeeee” sound.

And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:30-31 ESV)


Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 February 1897 No 2 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 February 1897 No 2 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – Blue Mountain Lory

Previous Article –The Kingfisher – The Lone Fisherman

Wordless Birds


Red-winged Blackbirds


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