Songs of Spring – Red-winged Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbird maleRed-winged Blackbird male – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Yesterday while taking the auto tour route at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge I heard a Red-winged Blackbird loudly singing the songs of spring. The light was terrible yesterday so I looked around in my files for a male Red-winged Blackbird to share this morning and came across this one taken at Bear River NWR a few years ago.

I’ve mentioned before that black birds are difficult to expose properly and that often times I need to use exposure compensation to make sure the blacks aren’t too dark or they won’t show fine detail but when I took this image the light was just right and I didn’t need to adjust my exposure to get it right. I love it when that happens!

Fairly soon I’ll be seeing many more of the male Red-winged Blackbirds perching at the top of rushes and cattails singing springtime serenades for the females and flashing their brilliantly colored epaulets! For black birds they are kind of flashy.



  1. Susan March 9, 2013 at 7:16 am

    Awesome post Mia, can’t wait to see the Black birds:)

    • Mia McPherson March 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

      They will be there soon Susan! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Sally Wood March 4, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Absolutely LOVE their songs. They are a a real summer bird sound for me – June in the willows!

  3. Ingrid March 3, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Mia, we all posted about Red-wings at the onset of March! That made me smile. I, too, saw them calling out from their cattails last week, which, in turn, inspired me to go through my blackbird photos.

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm

      Isn’t it great fun to see a bird and go back through files and view them again? I do that often.

      I love reading your blog and seeing your images Ingrid! Thank you for visiting & commenting on mine.

  4. Kathleen March 3, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Red-winged Blackbirds are a favorite of mine. Love their song and what it heralds.

  5. Sherry in MT March 2, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    No spring birds this far north yet but I woke to birds singing this morning and it was wonderful! You got an amazing shot there, it is nice when that happens!

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      Thanks Sherry, spring is creeping up on us!

  6. Merrill Ann Gonzales March 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    This is marvelous. Yesterday, I too was out and watched the first arrival of the red-wings… I think their song arrives a moment or two before they do! We all heard it and rushed outside to see. I got some photos but none close up enough to see the actual birds ….
    It must be spring. The skunks are out too. One got under my friend’s car and let loose… Who can get upset? It’s spring after all and the long winter is over… (until next Wednesday when we’re expecting more snow!)

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm

      I’ve been seeing signs of skunks too Merrill, mostly along the roads. I think it is super when we start hearing the sounds of spring birds, I am waiting for the call of the Long-billed Curlews. That sound amazes me.

  7. Bob Bushell March 2, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Perfection Mia.

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Thank you Bob, you are so kind.

  8. Bryce Robinson March 2, 2013 at 11:30 am

    You know what I love about this photo Mia? (Besides your skilled exposure showing detail in the bird) The posture of this bird is so interesting. I just love images like these.

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      Bryce, I love the posture of this bird too, it makes me think it is wondering what it will do next. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Pierre Cenerelli March 2, 2013 at 11:07 am


    Yet another great shot! I find that RWBA’s are quite under-rated, especially the females, which have an especially beautiful and delicate colouring in the spring.

    BTW, I have an equipment question: I noticed you shot this photo with a 1.4 TC at 400mm and it is still quite crisp. Would you recommend it to other (birder) photographers? I would like to exchange with you about this issue if you have a few moments.


    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm


      I love the 200-400mm VR lens and get really sharp images even with the TC on at 400mm. I’d recommend this lens to other bird and wildlife photographers.

      I enjoy both the male & more subtle female Red-winged Blackbirds too. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Matthew Sim March 2, 2013 at 10:55 am

    That’s a great shot Mia!

  11. eric c11 March 2, 2013 at 10:51 am

    he is very nice, the colored spot is amazing too
    well captured mia ☺

  12. judy watson March 2, 2013 at 7:40 am

    How was it there? We are going today.
    Very nice photo of the bird. I love them. But like you say…I can’t get a good pic of them and my lens doesn’t reach as far.

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      It was slow at the refuge Judy, I see that it was slow for you too. But it won’t be long before it is hopping with birds!

      On the south side of the auto tour route where the blackbirds perch on the rushes you should be able to get images of them when they are calling on territory soon.

  13. Susan March 2, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Amazing photo Mia, I can’t wait until the blackbirds arrive. Hopefully only in a few short weeks.

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      I hope the blackbirds return to you soon Susan! Thanks for commenting.

  14. M. Firpi March 2, 2013 at 4:50 am

    Mia, beautiful exposure. I don’t forgive myself for ignoring this charmer when I was in Florida. I suppose I learned my lesson now. I ignored him to go after the Anhingas and the Great Blue Herons.

    • Mia McPherson March 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      Maria, I hope you get a chance to photograph Red-winged Blackbirds soon.

Comments are closed.