Project Chekov: Red-Winged Blackbird and Robin

Now you gotta give me props for my clever Blackbird and Robin title! Here we are with another entry in Project Chekov. I may have underestimated this little project but no good project comes easy. As you know by now, this post features two birds. Neither of these birds are technically new to the Blog and therefore sans check marks. However, it does give me a chance to significantly improve my offering of the following bird:

That there is the cleverly (okay, maybe not) Red-Winged Blackbird.  These shots definitely up the game from the distant branch cluttered shot from before (link here).  I bet that if you live anywhere in North America you have seen this particular bird and per Wikipedia one of the most abundant and studied birds in these parts.  With that stated, you would think there would be more interesting information readily available on them.   Pretty weak in that area across both Cornell’s bird site and Wikipedia.  There is one key behavioral aspect that they lightly touch upon, but in my opinion understate.

These birds are downright aggressive on intruders.  Get to close to their territory and they’ll start puffing themselves up, displaying their wings in an aggressive manner and get to squawking something horrible.  If that doesn’t get your attention they’ll commence dive bombings.

hit the jump to read a little more about this blackbird and the other featured bird of the post

A number of years back, a set of these decided to nest in a walkway next to my company’s building.  They declared that section of the walkway as theirs and proceeded to attack anyone that tried to use it.  Women were getting abused the most as they swept in to mess with their hair.  They eventually ribboned off that area and let them have their nesting area in peace. They also have a nasty habit of swooping in on my if my runs take me to close to their nests just off the road.

typically you will find them hanging out in marshy areas in amongst the cattails and prairie grass.  They must be pretty nimble because they often take up positions on the highest peaks having no problem balancing on the various footings available.

At first I thought the shot above and below were actually females based on how light the coloring was on their wings.  Turns out this was a wrong assumption.  They are all males.  The females are actually brown and if it wasn’t for their larger size you would think they were some variation of sparrow – I have some of those shots below so you can visualize the differences.  I did learn something new about this birds.  They often fall prey to raptors, owls and  hawks – hell, even crows and herons are known to attack them.  Some would say they might be a victim of their own abundance … my take is they are so damn annoying with their squawking all the time the other birds just kill them for some peace and quiet.

Always squawking and raising a ridiculous racket around the marsh like the own the place or something.  They do provide for interesting poses and compositions!

Okay, I promised you the female and here you go.

Told you it looked kinda like a sparrow – a pissed off sparrow, but a sparrow none the less.  Without a good measure reference it is hard to judge their size.  Females are in the 7 inch range which is about 2 inches shorter than their male counterparts.  Here is a shot of the female back so you can get a good look at the markings – admittedly, the head went a little soft but the composition with the light burst in the background turned out perfect.

No on to the other featured bird of the post.  Another very common bird in North America and actually a member of the Thrush family.  Cornell brands them the “quintessential early bird”.  Something I never really thought of before but they are always out at the crack of dawn yanking worms out of the ground.

The Robin has made it onto the Blog several times now.  There were a few shots from the Cheeseland excursion (link here).  However, the shots of the babies at Jackson Hole are still my one of my favorites (link here).  According to Wikipedia, these Robins are one of the few that don’t take crap from those brood parasites like the Cowbird (link here).  When they see them they rid the nest – take that you asses (now realizing just how much those cowbirds torque me off).

Robins are preyed upon by hawks, cats and holy crap snakes (Linda will love reading that last tidbit), but form up into flocks to help safeguard from attack.  It was once hunted for its meat, but the Migratory Bird Act has pretty much put an end to that (yeah!).  One scary tidbit I did not know is they are common carriers for West Nile – eesh, this is EXACTLY why we need lots of insect eating birds to frequent our backyard.

That about covers it.  Again, two pretty common birds here in North America.  Next time you are out and about, take a break and just look around and enjoy nature – one of these birds are sure to be hanging out –  tell them hi for me!

5 thoughts on “Project Chekov: Red-Winged Blackbird and Robin”

  1. That second shot of the Red-Winged Blackbird is competition-worthy! You should consider it for the fairs this summer.

    There are a whole lot of them in the prairie preserve around here, so Matthew and I took a lot of pictures of them. I’ve only been swooped at a few times, never seriously, but I read that they attack bikers sometimes. I remember the females as just large brown birds, so I was pleasantly surprised at the details you pulled out with your lens–it actually looks pretty cool.

    Robins are under-appreciated, that’s for sure. I’ve always wondered why they are called Robin Red-Brest when they’re breasts are orange. Anyway, I never thought they bothered anyone, but as carriers of West Nile I’m beginning to wonder. I’ve also always, always questioned that they can sense earthworms moving through their feet. But I’m not sure.

    Thanks–and I did like your dynamic duo pun!



  2. I will put that second shot on the list to consider – again, I have to deal with an Eagle shot by my non-bird photography competition so the submission list will have to be highly scrutinized this year.. and of course I need to pull out my glass WIDE OPEN landscape shots to put the pressure on her categories. Yeah, that whole West Nile thingy is pretty bothersome – it does seem their presence is diminished around here as of late – not seeing nearly as many as when we were growing up which was about the only bird we routinely saw back then. So what you are saying is they can’t feel the worms .. they must be able to HEAR them (which is what I was led to believe when I was a child – but then again I am highly suspect of all my early schooling)


  3. OK, this is a good consensus of what I find on the web (note the proper spelling of consensus):

    “Exactly what senses are critical to the robin’s lethal strikes on worms has been the subject of considerable scientific debate. The sight of a robin searching for worms with its head cocked led observers suggest that its ears — located on the sides of its head — were the primary weapon. Then, in 1965, Dr. Frank Heppner, an ornithologist, conducted ingenious experiments indicating that sight, not sound, was the secret.

    Smell was discarded when he found that robins readily ate stinky stuff like rotten eggs and decayed meat. Touch — as in sensing vibrations — was discarded when Heppner found that robins plucked motionless dead worms from holes and devoured them. Next, Heppner drilled experimental worm holes and presented them to robins. They turned up their beaks at empty holes but not at those containing worms, no matter if the worms were alive or dead, covered with a foul substance or not.

    As far as most scientists were concerned, Heppner’s experiment was proof enough, and until 1997, textbooks indicated that worm capture depended mostly on vision. Then, two Canadian scientists, Robert Montgomerie and Robert Weatherhead, published a conflicting theory in the journal Animal Behaviour. They experimented with robins and mealworms, which are really beetle larvae but wormlike enough to serve as earthworm stand-ins. Robins could not find buried mealworms if their hearing was subject to noise. If the senses of touch, smell and vision were blocked, but hearing unimpaired, the meanworms were dead ducks. Thus, the scientists concluded, hearing does indeed play a role, although perhaps in concert with vision.”

    So where in the world did I hear that they felt worms moving around by their feet?! I held this non-conformist anti-establishment stance for decades, very vocally! OK, now I’m switching–I don’t believe it’s through vision aided a bit by hearing, not at all! I think the scientists are all wrong, all of them. I think they feel the worms through their feet! That’s my belief against all conventional wisdom on the matter. I think I dreamed up the real truth and I’m the only one who knows it. Someday I’ll be proven correct.



  4. I believe that they can feel the worms many hearts beating through their sensitive feet – which is why “motionless” doesn’t matter .. as long as they are not dead! Read it here first folks… and I didn’t need to conduct any ingenious experiment.


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