Time for Empty Nest Syndrome… Or Not?
I’ve written a post or two on the Red-winged Blackbirds — common songbirds found in most of North and much of Central America, and familiar sights in our protected wetlands and Everglades. The males, glossy black with scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches, puff up or hide depending on their level of confidence. In our marshes, they’re quite brave (or protective, in defense-mode), doing their hardest to get noticed, and belting out their conk-la-ree songs. The female, subdued brown with streaks of lighter colorations, is much shyer than her male counterpart. Her brownish coloring serves to camouflage her and the nest, while she’s incubating. Staying low in the vegetation, she searches for food (eating primarily seeds and insects) and weaves her amazing nest. Constructed entirely over the course of 3-6 days — with no help from the males — the nests are woven in cattails, rushes, grasses, or in alder or willow bushes. Located near the water’s surface, the nest is a basket constructed of grasses, sedge, and mosses, lined with mud and bound to surrounding grasses or branches. I’ve watched for nearly an hour in awe, as a female patiently gathered her grasses from the surrounding wetlands — and even longer as another intricately wove her basket-nest. It’s beautifully mesmerizing (and believe me, I’m no birdwatching crackerjack). Red-winged Blackbirds nest in loose colonies, and the males serve as sentinels to guard the nests, using various calls to denote the type and severity of danger against such predators as snakes, raccoons, iguanas, and other birds.
In my recent wanderings, I first became captivated by the spectacular artwork of the Blackbirds’ bluish eggs, marked with brown and/or black Pollock splatters. Incubated by the female alone, they hatched within 11-12 days. Being a large colony, there was no dearth of nests, but it wasn’t always easy to spy the eggs in the marsh vegetation:
Then I fell in love with the hatchlings: born blind and naked, they were ready to leave the nest 11-14 days after hatching. Chirping away, they were ever-protected by their parents. But time flies quickly….
During recent walks, I began noticing more empty nests, over which I couldn’t help feeling irrationally sad…. Other than empty nests, I spied a momma Blackbird teaching her young ones early flight — or early adventures out of their nest. Was nesting season finished? Were there to be no more Red-winged Blackbird babies?
But over yonder! What was that commotion…. Lo and behold, a new nest! The male perched sentinel nearby, always the protector, while the female made her way to the nest, to incubate her new eggs. And the cycle continues, hoorah!