Red-winged Blackbird Trying To Get At Those Pesky Sunflower Seeds

The seeds were still on the wild plants and they weren’t easy to reach which resulted in some fun photos.

Recently I posted images of a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow as it attempted to feed on these same hard to reach sunflowers. The seeds are in flower clusters at the end of long, flimsy stalks that couldn’t support the weight of the sparrow so the bird kept struggling to reach them and falling off. Well, this female Red-winged Blackbird weighs almost twice as much as the sparrow (1.8 oz. versus 1 oz.) so you can imagine the difficulties for the blackbird.

  • These photos were taken in fairly low light and I wanted plenty of shutter speed for the action so I’m shooting at unusually high ISO’s. The face of the bird is slightly soft in some of the later images because my active focus points kept grabbing onto parts of the plants in front of the bird.

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed the female Red-winged Blackbird 13 days ago on Antelope Island. Here she’s apparently surveying the masses of flower heads around her and trying to decide which ones might still contain seeds (many of them have already been picked clean of seeds by other birds).

 

 

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

First she had to find a stable perch which wasn’t easy.

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Once the flower stalk stopped waving and bouncing around she found some stability but…

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

whenever she moved around she lost her balance.

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

She managed to successfully turn on the perch and here she’s apparently deciding which flower cluster to go after. Notice that the two clusters on the left have already been picked clean of seeds (as indicated by their lighter color) but the darker cluster at center bottom of the image is still loaded with seeds. That cluster of seeds became her goal.

 

 

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But reaching it without falling off wasn’t easy. She reached down and tried to grab the stalk that flower cluster was on so she could pull it up toward her. But when that failed…

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

she once again turned on the perch…

 

 

1/5000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

and tried to reach it from the other side.

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

She (barely) managed to grab it in her beak…

 

 

1/5000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

and started to pull it up toward her but when she began to lose her balance again…

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

it slipped out of her grasp as she almost fell off the perch.

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This is the last photo I kept of her attempt at those particular seeds and I don’t believe she ever succeeded at getting any of them.

But it was sure fun watching and photographing her as she tried.

Ron

 

 

 

37 comments to Red-winged Blackbird Trying To Get At Those Pesky Sunflower Seeds

  • Joanne OBrien

    Love these “feel-good” photos! Many are fine on there own but as a series they are real enjoyable. Birds are such hard working athletes! Thank you once again for sharing them.

  • Patty Chadwick

    Wonderful series of Mrs. Redwinged…can’t pick a favorite…like them all!

  • jeff

    Add my name to the long list of admirers! We grow sunflowers in our yard just for this reason, to watch the birds do their acrobatics trying to get at that seed head!

  • Add me to the loooooong list of people marvelling at this series. I suspect if we had to work this hard (or indeed hard at all) for our food there would be a lot less obesity issues.
    And I do hope that this sylphlike charmer got for fill when she had stopped posing for you.

  • Alice Beckcom

    We certainly get to see a lot of ‘poses’ from this red-winged blackbird. I see a lot of wing spread, used for balancing, but I don’t see the tail expanded, for whatever reason. Perhaps I’m not considering how a bird uses its tail! I like the fact that we are able to see why this is called a red-winged blackbird.

    A great series. I must say that I feel sorry for this bird who put so much effort, without any success.

    Thank you, Ron

  • Susan Stone

    It’s probably mean to laugh at this poor bird, but her antics did give me a chuckle. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a female Red-winged Blackbird before – they are gorgeous in their own right. Many of the species where the males are colorful have gorgeous monochromatic females. In looking through this series, I’ve wondered why she didn’t go for the seed head that was right at her feet – it looks as if it still has seeds in it.

  • Kelly Stevens

    Tough days indeed… Three calories expended, for each calorie taken in, or well, in this case, zero taken in… Kingfisher seems to have the better math.

  • Laura Culley

    What a(nother) spectacular series!! The colors, the contrasts, how the details pop, and the overall wonderfulness! Just OH WOW! What a(nother) glorious morning it is on the Ron Dudley blog! LOVE it!
    I’m struck by how useful it is to have wings when you lose your balance. I’m also CERTAIN she persisted until she found a way to make it all happen. I just get that feeling from her overall stubbornness. Yes, there’s a point at which the energy gained is not worth the energy expended, but I just KNOW there’s a way for her to get there and she’ll figure it out before she reaches that point. And then, the bounty is hers!
    I’m not so sure we deserve birds (or dogs, or other critters for that matter), but oh how splendid it is that we have them anyway!

    • “I’m struck by how useful it is to have wings when you lose your balance”

      Me too, Laura. They use them very effectively in that situation. Thank you.

  • Marty K

    I am grateful for the tenacity of the subject and the photographer this morning. Hope she was eventually able to find some breakfast. Those little green pops from the calyx and the couple of leaves enhance the scene.

  • I’d call that background color something like “caffe latte”, and not only is it a wonderful harmony with the coloration of the very persistent bird ( who gave you lots of good opportunity ! )
    but it “pops” the remaining green on the sunflowers’ sepals by way of contrast–something a “sepia” format couldn’t do—just lovely .

  • Kent Patrick-Riley

    Another wonderful series!

  • Charlotte Norton

    Great behavioral series Ron! Almost looks like a sepia with the colors.

    Charlotte

    • Thanks, Charlotte. A bit of trivia (though you may have already known this). The color sepia gets its name from the “ink” of cuttlefish (close relative of the octopus) that is also called sepia…

  • Carlotta Grenier

    A fantastic series

  • Ann Lewis

    As always, beautiful.

  • kathy bakker

    Your photos seem mor like beautiful paintings to me!. Always love everything you post. Thank you.

  • Robert (RJ) Davis

    Great behavioral shots! I appreciate how you document and beautifully photograph birds going about their daily challenges, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always trying and learning. Your keen awareness and persistence is not unlike that of your subjects.

  • Judy Gusick

    The light suits her well! It was a long time before I realized female red wing blackbirds were SO different from the males and not a different bird! Lot of work for nothing but great photos of her efforts it appears. The females are beautiful in their own right! 🙂

    • Judy, There’s a LOT of confusion over the ID of female Red-winged Blackbirds. I may see more incorrect ID’s on them than on any other common bird.

  • Love the behavior and I can’t imagine a better background.

  • Beautiful images Ron. I love the golden brown background. You have nice light on the Red-winged Blackbird.

    • Thanks, Ed. Sometimes I grow weary of the same old background color (dried grasses mostly) on the island this time of year but in the right light and with certain subjects it can look great.