Red-winged Blackbird

A stark black body with bright red shoulders is characteristic of a bird found in wet areas across North America, the Red-winged Blackbird. Bullies of the bird world, they can often be seen attacking birds more than double their size such as a Red-tailed Hawk.

More information

See the Red-winged Blackbird's profile on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

Photo Credits

Cover photo: By Andrea Westmoreland from DeLand, United States (Red-winged Blackbird at Lake Woodruff) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Collage Photo (above): By Richard Crossley (Richard Crossley) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Isn't there a red-winged blackbird
in every poem, waiting, a blob 
of paint weighing the gray reeds down
then fluffing up its scarlet epaulettes? 
"Welcome to the gun show! Kapow!"

SHUT UP, and then, GET OVER IT,
I want to shout at every yap-happy dog
raving from behind its vertical slats of pressure-treated wood as I walk by
(actually the owners, not the dog, 
are stupid, but that's another poem--
another species) anyway 
I want to bark back,

"GET OVER IT!"--because
So I'm walking by your house. So what?! What are you, a Red-Winged Blackbird,
genetically incapable 
of anything other
than nest-twigging, egg-
laying, worm-procuring, and 
(above all) scolding?

On my gravel-road walks, one flies ahead, Okalee! Okalee! Sputter, sputter, sputter--
the manifestation of a Ms. Manners
who never received any childhood love or validation
and so must take it out on everyone else

Although really I know it's drawing me away from the nest,
showing the selflessest form of love
which by its essence I am not supposed 
to see. I tolerate its scolding 
as strategy. The dog, though--
seriously, get over it. I'm walking here.

Get over it. 
And same with all you others: So what if our hands touch when reaching at the plastic-divider for the grocery checkout belt; so what if my toe grazes your yoga mat. So my dog peed on the bush you planted 
two years ago and continue to prune 
into the shape you've allotted it
to occupy, but you--you can no longer 
name the species.

Where do red-winged blackbirds go
when March snow doubles back
and attacks?

Do they dig themselves deeper 
into dead leaves around the reeds' roots 
or do they hide behind barn beams,
puffed up like kitchen scrubbers?

Who knows where they go. A scientist,
maybe, but where is she to say? Where
does the scientist go, eh? The internet
is too vast for actual answers, unlike 
the territory of the are-dubyuh-bee-bee.

Hiding seems too cowardly for new-world 
passerine. Their pirate ships fly neon flags 
through storms that block out the sun.


Their gleaming raven strands 
foreshadow mercilessness entwined 
with chaotic red; a sign of spilled blood.

A screech of terror
resounds through the dread-
filled ears of suspecting prey.

These inky strands a resemblance 
to the soulless blacks of my father.
The red an equivalence to the fire
evident in his vexed glares. 

His thunderous wails indistinguishable 
from the bird’s murderous shrieks.
My delicate victim ears unsuspecting.

Born on this Earth
with the red of a devil
are the birds who bully.

Created by the people on this Earth
are the devils themselves.

When I was little I thought crows were old blackbirds that had outgrown their shirts.

CR Blackbird Facebook Song

I wear these bright epaulets, daring any kid with a BB.
I sing with a thrilling song to announce my patch of reeds!
I swoop, I dive, I cry and exalt.
You ask why my skin is the color of coal.
I tell you my shoulders are the heat of fire,
all puffed up, feeling confident, ready for the chance.
It’s evolutionary.
I’m no mere canary, ‘cause I flew to the sun
before dragon or phoenix
charred my feathers and stole two embers to show love.

I’ve flown to the sun and you’ve never heard my song.

(I sense this may be wildly autobiographical.)

Here our black bodies form musical notes on the wires and lines
so the wind can play through like strings as our coal black feathers
slice through air,
wings beating as drums under an orchestral score with
startling red shoulders like trumpets sounding.

The song of life and love and freedom. I’d share with you if only you took the time to hear.

We sit, strung on a telephone line, like beads of a noisy necklace;
we listen to your calls with our feet,
feel the words you meant to say
but couldn't.

The year was 1974, I swoop and dive-bomb the little girl on the pretty pink bike who's waving her caution flag in an attempt to keep me away...she fails and I peck her head, not once, not twice but 7 times.

Ever vigilant
standing your ground or cattail
German flag affixed to your wing
aggressively perched, letting punks know to keep off your lawn
so territorial you'll attack a cardboard
replica of yourself


It is the first sighting of red-winged blackbirds.
As a newcomer from another continent,
they were unfamiliar and curious to me then
with their broad-flamed shoulders and sturdy egos.
They dotted the route from town to Springville farmhouse,
commanded their post on the country lines,
those lines parallel to one another,
parallel to the gravel road--
the one that we barreled along,
ripped through, frayed with its own dust--
to meet a grandmother I did not yet know.

It is the dust spraying from 
the tail of the maroon Buick skylark
to offer a trail two miles long
down the highway, 
down the long stretch of highway,
from the thickness of here to thin to nothing again
as though we had not been, 
just now,
in that other place.

It is that other place
from where we’d come
(and which I remember only barely now).
It is where vendors lined the paved roads into town
selling okra, grilled corn, and suya.
Where, outside of Bamenda, Volkswagon vans shared the road 
with big-horned cattle herded along by farmers drunk on palm wine.
The scent of their palm wine I cannot recall
the way I can recall now
the red plumes of dust trailing behind us as we cleared from their herd,
from the thickness of us there to thin to nothing again,
as though we had not been, 
just then,
in that other place
with them.

There is, in all of this,
a recollection of the moving away 
and of the moving, too.

Divebomber! speaking of Iowa close encounters. In its space, in our face. Singular experience, not in a flock. Voices creak like a garden door. The hinge is electric. Raucous. Coveter of mile markers, always sitting by the roadside. We have a lot of birders here, so you're going to get a lot of yeses. That was just a comment. We need some verbs in his poems. Run! from the flapping! Duck! Dive! Duckdiving! I'm not a bully, I'm just bold.

Bloody shouldered ditch dweller
Rises and dives from the runoff 
Must we disturb even that piece 
Of the Ioway world we left him.

And the childhood drives in the country counting fence posts and singing redwing blackbirds. Longing to hear the song of the tilted head & stretched neck.

Rocked reeds swing
under squawking black flags
flying cherry-orange Icee crests, 
"Beware the black licorice" in Latin. They'll tell you straight up: there's no such thing as an open field.

i hear you, but you will kill me, won't you?

red-winged blackbirds sit
flashing red like matadors.
this time, spring charges


They were probably the first bird
I was taught, striking in flight, easy
to spot. I remember them most
the summer my parents finally split. 
They seemed to be in all the in-between
places: along the vineyard gates off 
Highway Twelve, near the turkey farm,
the dump, the cattle ranch by Middle
Two Rock Road. No matter whose 
car I was in, or where I was going,
the red-winged blackbird swerved 
and dove and showed off its mark
so much that I stopped pointing
them out, figured I’d be a bother
always saying the same bird thing 
from the backseat with my brother
while there was so much at stake.
Still I knew they were there, counted
on them as something steady 
to stare at while the horizon turned
all wobbly through the windshield.