Female Red-winged Blackbirds – Frequency in Misidentification

Female Red-winged Blackbird near her nestFemale Red-winged Blackbird near her nest – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/350, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

I belong to couple of groups on Facebook that are all about birds and in a couple of those groups people ask for bird identification from images they have taken, there are a few groups that are strictly about identification.

Female Red-winged Blackbirds seem to be the birds that are most often misidentified probably because they look so different from the males. Red-winged Blackbirds are sexually dimorphic.

sexual dimorphism

the condition in which the males and females in a species are morphologically different, as with many birds.

Bear River MBR Red-winged Blackbird femaleBear River MBR Red-winged Blackbird female – Nikon D810, f8, 1/500, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light

I have seen novices identify female Red-winged Blackbirds as Seaside Sparrows, young Varied Thrushes, “some kind of sparrow” and many other misidentifications.  In one group alone I think they are misidentified about 10 to 12 times a day.

Bill shape, bill size, body size, shape, color, plumage patterns, leg color, leg length and eye color can all be used as keys to identification in Red-winged Blackbirds and all other birds.

Male Red-winged Blackbird on a Sea Oat stalkMale Red-winged Blackbird on a Sea Oat stalk – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 360mm, natural light

I wanted to include a photo of a male Red-winged Blackbird for comparison, the males and females really do not look alike in color or plumage, but they do have the same shape, the same bill size and shape, the same legs and eye color.

Bird identification can be complicated and for novices I always recommend purchasing field guides or downloading bird guide apps to their phones especially if they are serious about photographing birds. The guides really help but actually studying the guides is more helpful.

Life is good.


Top and bottom images were taken at Fort De Soto County Park in Florida, the middle image was taken at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah.


  1. Utahbooklover June 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial and the beautiful images, especially the first two.

  2. Diane McPherson June 14, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    I have more Red Winged Blackbirds than any other. I guess I thought some of the weird sparrows were that weird sparrows . Guess not . Will have to look harder. I would have never guessed that they looked that different . I also have Yellow winged Blackbirds. Are they juvies or just a different kind.

  3. Patty Chadwick June 14, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    I usually go by the “striped pajamas” of the females to ID them…and it helps to hear what they have to say…and if the males are nearby…I especially like the seconf image-with its tiny hints of color and the much favoredcat-tail perch…..

  4. April Olson June 14, 2017 at 10:51 am

    I love the second photo, it shows some red around the face and wing. I usually do not see that more often they look like the first photo. Perhaps it is age related.

  5. David Sparks June 14, 2017 at 8:00 am

    I really like the composition of the male Red-winged Blackbird image.
    I still remember my amazement when I first found an image in a field guide that matched my point-and-shoot shot of a female Red-winged Blackbird.

  6. Bob mcpherson June 14, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Beautiful images, Mia

  7. Kim June 14, 2017 at 7:01 am

    I did not know this. Beautiful images.

  8. Liz Cormack June 14, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Just last week a woman approached me asking what type of sparrow was sitting on a nest. I explained it was a female Red-winged Blackbird but she certainly didn’t believe me…..because it was brown, not black. Sigh!

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