What Do Red-winged Blackbirds Sound Like: Songs & Sounds

red winged blackbird song
Like many songbirds, the red-winged blackbird has a distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable. The red-winged blackbird song is described as a conk-la-ree or ok-ka-lee sound.

Red-winged blackbirds favor wetlands and marshes; their song is often part of a larger chorus of amphibians, insects, and other wetland birds.

Once you can recognize the different songs of the red-winged blackbird, you can easily pick them out from the wetland symphony.

So, what are the different songs of the red-winged blackbird, and why do they sing?  

What does a red-winged blackbird’s song sound like?

Red-winged blackbirds have a distinct conk-la-ree sound. Sometimes described as ok-ka-lee, the red-winged blackbird call is integral to mating and establishing territory.

The song spans about 1-second, starting with an abrupt note that settles into a melodic trill. Red-wing blackbirds spread their wings slightly and lean into the sound, impressively displaying their signature red shoulder patches. 

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Red-winged blackbirds are part of the dawn chorus. Dawn chorus birds sing early in the morning, starting their bird song before sunrise. During the breeding season, the vocalizations can reach a disruptive volume.

Robins, warblers, and orioles are also members of the dawn chorus, each adding their distinct song to greet the day. If you’re listening for the dawn chorus, you’ll find the red-winged blackbird call among the first.

Because mockingbirds sing through the night and into the early morning hours during mating season, they are often confused for members of the dawn chorus.

Since their bird song starts in the evening and tapers off before sunrise, mockingbirds are technically nocturnal singers. Chances are, if you have a mockingbird vocalizing all night long, it is a young male.

red-winged blackbird

Where can I listen to a red-wing blackbird song?

Red-winged blackbird calls can be heard in wetlands throughout North America. Video of the red-winged blackbird song is also available on YouTube, courtesy of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In addition to short videos across several platforms, the Macaulay Library website maintains an impressive catalog of bird songs available to the public.

Of course, the best place to listen to a red-winged blackbird song is in their natural habitat during the breeding season. You’ll find them singing early in the morning in wetlands, marshes, or anywhere cattails are abundant. 

Why does the red-winged blackbird sing?

Male red-winged blackbirds sing to establish territories and attract mates. Red-winged blackbirds begin singing in the early Spring, which is the start of their breeding season.

Since male red-winged blackbirds mate with up to 15 female birds in one season, they often choose breeding grounds in marshes and wetlands. The male will sing and display his striking red shoulder patches, letting other birds know the territory is occupied.

The female birds will build their nests close to each other among the cattails. Both parents feed the nestlings, so the male will help more than one female raise her brood. This keeps the male busy feeding duties and defending his breeding territory.

Despite fiercely guarding his mates, 25-50% of nestlings in a male’s territory are sired by a different male red-winged blackbird.

red winged blackbird 20

What is the spiritual significance of a red-winged blackbird singing?

A Red-winged blackbird’s song is a joyous message of good luck and new beginnings. These blackbirds are early risers, greeting the morning with song before the sun rises.

A singing blackbird lets you know that a new experience is about to begin, even if you can’t see the light just yet. Dreaming of a red-winged blackbird singing signifies that you will get good news and be happy.

Despite whatever darkness is weighing on you, there is a joy to be found, and you are on the cusp of something wonderful. Like so many songbirds, the red-winged blackbird song has a distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable.

A prominent member of the dawn chorus, you will usually hear them long before you see them. With their beautiful song, striking red shoulder patches, and glossy black feathers, the red-winged blackbird is truly a sight–and sound–to behold.

How do you identify a red-winged blackbird?

Red-winged blackbirds are glossy black birds with red shoulder patches, sometimes called epaulets. There is a yellow stripe under the red patch. 

Red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) can be found in wetland habitats with abundant cattails. The adult male is the more striking of the two, with deep black feathers and a red and yellow wing patch.

Adult female red-winged blackbirds are lighter with white and black streaks on their bellies and small orange feathers highlighting their faces.

Red-winged blackbirds are found throughout North America, except subspecies living in limited areas of California and Mexico. Agelaius phoeniceus gubernator is commonly referred to as the bicolored blackbird. 

red-winged blackbird cawing and calling

Unlike other red-winged blackbirds, the bicolor blackbird only has red plumage on the wing patch. Female bicolored blackbirds have dull red shoulder patches similar to adult males. Another North American bird species that favors marshes is the tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor).

Telling tricolored and red-winged blackbirds apart is relatively easy because male tricolored blackbirds have a white stripe under the red shoulder patch instead of the yellow stripe. Female tricolored blackbirds are all black with white-edged feathers where the male’s red patch would be.

Vianna Arenas

Vianna Arenas is a lifetime songbird enthusiast and nature lover. An avid backyard birdwatcher, Vianna loves gardening and creating a backyard oasis for the wildlife native to her home state of Texas. When she’s not camping or hiking with her family, she can be found sewing critter bags for orphaned wildlife.

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