Red-winged Blackbird

Mnemonic description of song:

Male: Oak-a-lee

What do we know about red-winged blackbird song?


  • Series of notes followed by buzz
  • Up to 9 song types (Yasukawa et al. 1980)
  • Sung in bouts
  • Polygymous, birds with larger repertoires have an advantage acquiring territories and have larger harems (Yasukawa et al. 1980)
  • Sung throughout the year


  • Discriminate neighbor song from non-neighbors (Yasukawa et al. 1982)
  • Avoid singing when others sing (Smith and Norman 1979)


  • Females have 2 types of song (Beletsky 1883a) .
    • Type 1: communication with mate
    • Type 2: aggressive toward rival females to defend territory
  • Female song probably not learned (Armstrong 1997 cited in Yasukawa and Searcy 2020)
  • Sing duet with male (Beletsky 1985)

How and when is song acquired?

Isolated young develop abnormal song (Marler et al. 1972)
Learn from recordings but not perfectly (Marler et al. 1972)
Some songs added as adults (Marler et al. 1972, Yasukawa et al. 1980) )

How can we facilitate learning?

Expose outdoors to singing males
Play recorded song but recordings alone are not sufficient


Armstrong, T. A. (1994). Female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) vocalizations: variations and ontogeny. Phd Thesis, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Beletsky, L. D. 1983a. Aggressive and pair-bond maintenance song of female red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Z. Tierpsychol., 62,47-54.

Beletsky, L. D. (1985). Intersexual song answering in Red-winged Blackbirds. Canadian Journal of Zoology 63:735-737.

Brenowitz, E. A. 1982b. Aggressive response of red-winged blackbirds to mockingbird song imitation. Auk, 99, 584-6.

Marler, P., P. Mundinger, M. S. Waser, and A. Lutjen (1972). Effects of acoustical stimulation and deprivation on song development in Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). Animal Behaviour 20:586-606.

Smith, D. G. & Norman, D. O. 1979. ‘Leader-follower’ singing in red-winged blackbirds. Condor, 81, 83-4)

Yasukawa, K., Blank, J. L. & Patterson, C. B. 1980.Song repertoires and sexual selection in the red-winged blackbird. Behav. Ecol. Sociolbiol., 7, 233-8.

Yasukawa, K., E. I. Bick, D. W. Wagman, and P. Marler (1982). Playback and speaker-occupation experiments on song-based neighbor, stranger, and self discrimination in male Red-winged Blackbirds. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 10:211-215.

Yasukawa, K. and W. A. Searcy (2020). Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.