First Spring Red-winged Blackbird Males

First spring male Red-winged BlackbirdFirst spring male Red-winged Blackbird – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Yesterday at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge I was able to photograph several first spring Red-winged Blackbird males. These blackbirds were hatched last year and haven’t yet developed their adult plumage or Definitive Basic Plumage. The plumage of first spring male Red-winged Blackbirds is variable. They aren’t an all over glossy looking black with flashy epaulets at this age!

Singing first spring Red-winged Blackbird maleSinging first spring Red-winged Blackbird male – Nikon D810, f10, 1/640, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Their epaulets are more orange, blackish or red-orange instead of bright red and yellow. These first two images show the same individual bird. The under part of the wings show more brown than black. Although this young male is singing on territory I am not sure they breed their first spring or if they wait until their second year when they have their adult plumage.

First spring male Red-winged Blackbird back viewFirst spring male Red-winged Blackbird back view – Nikon D810, f8, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

This image shows the back view of a first spring Red-winged Blackbird male with rufous and cream edges on his feathers that wouldn’t be seen in adult or Definitive Basic Plumage.

This individual does not have a white bill, it appears to have been poking its bill into light colored soil or mud while foraging for prey and the mud has been caked on its bill.

Life is good. Birds make it more interesting for me.



  1. Patty Chadwick April 9, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Color changes in these birds are interesting…thought they had adult plumage, colors, earlier…are the red and yellow epaulets made up of single colored feathers or festhers with more than one color on them…ex. Red and yellow….

  2. Jorge H. Oliveira April 9, 2016 at 10:01 am

    They are beautiful. Thank you for the lesson. Very interesting to see how the colours change.

  3. Catherine April 9, 2016 at 8:17 am

    I’m going to have to look closer at the flocks here in search of these young gentlemen.

  4. Liz Cormack April 9, 2016 at 7:29 am

    I love photographing 1st spring red-winged males. To me their plumage is wonderful. And these photos prove it.

  5. pennypinchadventure Tim Traver April 9, 2016 at 7:05 am

    Thanks Mia,
    A nice plumage lesson!

  6. Bob McPherson April 9, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Beautiful photos Mia.

Comments are closed.