I have been observing a modest influx and movement of red-winged blackbirds along the southern shore of New York Harbor. At least 20 male blackbirds have been stopping sporadically by my birdfeeder in the afternoon hours for the past two weeks to feed on seeds.
What does this mean? Many years ago, the first sight of a red-winged blackbird meant that spring and the arrival of warmer temperatures was close at hand, similar to the first sight of a robin. Today, both robins and red-winged blackbirds are very common and widespread all over the New York metropolitan region. They are fairly common winter residents as well, though red-wings tend to be less common in the northern parts of the harbor during the winter.
In winter, red-wings tend to flock together with mix species of blackbirds like starlings, grackles, and cowbirds. By day, the birds spread out to forage and feed on seeds, and by night the birds will roost, sometimes by the thousands.
By mid to late February, male red-winged blackbirds start to spread out. They are getting anxious to return to familiar brushy marshes and the upper edges of saltwater wetlands to begin another breeding season. Males start to migrate and return before females to defend a prime nesting territory from other male red-wings and even from larger birds, such as hawks and crows. Male red-wings can be bold and brassy for sure.
Although, I have not heard the familiar territory calls of male red-wings as of today, I suspect it's only a matter of time. The birds seem to be starting to move towards weedy wetlands. Soon those open fields will be filled with loud, raspy konk-a-reeeee calls to defend a territory and to attract a mate. Females usually return to familiar wetlands a few weeks after than males. The need to breed is getting stronger and stronger in red-winged blackbirds.
Interesting fact. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, the oldest recorded red-winged blackbird was 15 years, 9 months old. It was banded in New Jersey in 1967, and found alive, but injured in Michigan in 1983. It was able to be released after recovering from its injuries.