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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:

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Eggs

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….

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Hatchlings

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with Hatchlings

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?

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

Empty Red-winged Blackbird Nest

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!

Female Red-winged Blackbird on Her Way to the Nest

Red-winged Blackbird Sentinel

A new nest, with eggs!!

Red-winged Blackbird Nest with a New Momma

29 Comments Post a comment
  1. ah…great pictures …again! And, I love seeing red-wing black birds. and, hearing them. 🙂

    May 7, 2012
    • Thanks so much! I was beginning to get a bit depressed, taking nothing but shots of empty nests; until…. 🙂

      May 7, 2012
      • ….until you made a fun discovery?! 🙂 and they’re so very cute!! They make me smile.

        May 7, 2012
      • ‘Zactly! Not that there’s always something amazing to find at other times, but the nests and babies are always so FUN! ♥ (And not to be a girl, but…they’re BABIES!)

        May 7, 2012
  2. marialla #

    Yes, once they are all gone, you feel like your own children went out into that big world and wondering if they are ok or not. Our geese, maybe not our but I imagine so, I hear honking by every once in awhile and I imagine they are reporting in to say all is fine with them and their little ones. Silly but…. I think any being you watch come out from babyhood and watch as they grow and mature, there is some powerful – ok , maybe powerful is too strong a word but some strong – emotional attachment to that being. A caring, a love a concern!!! Maybe, next year or their next mating time , they will once again nest near you!!!

    May 7, 2012
    • I totally agree! I don’t think that’s a stretch in the least… I’ve heard many wildlife rehabilitators relate stories of the wild parents of rescued critters coming to them, as if they know — and returning, generations later! i do believe there is a connection. love is love. ♥

      May 7, 2012
      • marialla #

        SO TRUE!!!

        May 7, 2012
  3. Stunning!

    May 7, 2012
    • 🙂 Thanks much! Sometimes I try not to look so hard for them… That’s actually when we found the new nest.

      May 7, 2012
      • I need to get out and about soon and try and find some of the wildlife in the Peak District 🙂 x

        May 7, 2012
      • omigosh… seriously. WANNA SWITCH?!? hahahah!!!

        May 7, 2012
  4. Excellent photos. I appreciate the time that you put into this post. Red-winged Blackbirds are among my favorites! ~Susan

    May 7, 2012
    • Thanks so very much!! I love learning about these guys — anything that I manage to get a halfway decent shot of, at least. There’s just soooo much to see, explore, learn…it really is amazingly beautiful. ♥

      May 7, 2012
  5. These pictures are amazing – I had no idea their eggs are blue. (Especially love the ones of the chicks with their mouths open!) This is my all-time favorite bird. In fact, it plays an integral part for the character in my children’s novel – so many memories attached to their song!! ❤

    May 7, 2012
    • Thank you!! Aren’t their eggs amazing? They’re the most beautiful blue (although somewhere I read that some have a greenish hue, too) — with what looks like a Pollock splatter on them… Just perfect. I love to listen to them, walking around the wetlands. And I’d loooovvvve to read your story!! ♥

      May 7, 2012
      • Yes, beautiful creature, indeed. My story is for young readers – you can find it on my site. ❤

        May 8, 2012
  6. beautiful shots! Did you have a zoom lens on, or were you able to get that close?

    May 7, 2012
    • Thanks so much! Oh most definitely, a zoom/telephoto lens was in order…. All of these nests — every one — were well nestled in the marshes, so while I could get somewhat close, I couldn’t/didn’t want to get TOO close. Gators, swamp and whatnot. 🙂 Besides, the parents get truly antsy when you’re around, so I quickly take the pic and move on.

      May 7, 2012
      • Didn’t think you could get that close, but it certainly looks like you were! Birds usually get pretty angry when I get close… Also, I keep forgetting about that gator thing living in Michigan… lol

        May 7, 2012
      • Hee!! Yep, those gators can blend fairly well down here… 🙂 But besides, I don’t want to aggravate/stress out the parents too much when I’m taking the pictures. I’m in and out as quick as possible. But these nests were truly in the wetlands — and I didn’t have muck boots, heh.

        May 7, 2012
  7. Wow! I love the photos of the birds on your blog! They look great. Keep up the good work.

    May 7, 2012
    • Thanks so very much!! I’m very lucky to live on the edge of the Everglades (well, sadly once was the ‘Glades) — so I have access to many preserves and hiking areas to catch these guys… If I’m not beaten down from any particular hike, that is. 🙂

      May 8, 2012
  8. I’ve heard that robins can nest up to three times in a year. I wonder if that is true for other birds, like these ones, too??

    May 8, 2012
    • You know, I’ve been wondering the same… It certainly seems as such, but it’s hard to tell — these particular images were taken in a very large, loose colony, so the individual birds are hard to track. I should look it up…. 🙂

      May 8, 2012
  9. Madeline Lund #

    Loved your pictures and struck by the relentlessness of life’s cycle. Thank you for a great thought to start my day!

    May 8, 2012
    • I’m so glad you enjoyed them — and such a perfect way to describe nature and her cycle! ♥

      May 8, 2012
  10. Sadly the Abert’s towhees that built a nest in my fuchsia and left four eggs in it apparently have abandoned it. I guess I was spending too much time on the patio and they weren’t comfortable.

    May 8, 2012
  11. Great Photos!!!

    May 8, 2012

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  1. Red-Winged Blackbird in Cape May, N.J. | I see beauty all around by rob paine

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