Family New World Blackbirds (Icteridae)

Least Concern

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)


French: Carouge à épaulettes German: Rotflügelstärling Spanish: Sargento alirrojo

O[riolus]. phoeniceus


, 1766,

Charleston, South Carolina, USA


Formerly treated as conspecific with A. assimilis, but they differ markedly in sexual dimorphism, in mating and nesting behaviour and in size; molecular data support treatment as separate species. Subspecific taxonomy complex. Distinctive race gubernator has been suggested as being a separate species (often including californicus and mailliardorum as races)#R; was possibly isolated in past, but now intergrades with nelsoni. Over most of E USA and Canada geographical variation runs along smooth clines and delimitation of races rather arbitrary; several independent studies indicate minimal differences in DNA between most races in E North America. Some authors suggest that arctolegus and fortis are better synonymized with nominate; mearnsi and floridanus also sometimes treated thus#R. Additional proposed races are, in USA, stereus (described from Barr, Colorado), zastereus (Boise, Idaho) and heterurus (Fort Wingate, New Mexico), all tentatively included in fortis; and matudae (Palizada, in Campeche, Mexico) and brevirostris (N Honduras), all treated as synonyms of richmondi. Twenty-two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. p. arctolegus Oberholser, 1907 – SE Alaska and W Canada (SE Yukon, C Mackenzie, NW Saskatchewan and NC Manitoba S to C British Columbia, S Alberta and W & NE Ontario) S in USA to E Montana, S South Dakota and Iowa; migrates to S USA.
  • A. p. caurinus Ridgway, 1901 – SW Canada (British Columbia) S along US coast to N California.
  • A. p. nevadensis Grinnell, 1914 – SC & SE British Columbia S in W USA (from C Washington, N Idaho and WC Oregon) to SC California and S Nevada.
  • A. p. aciculatus Mailliard, 1915 – Kern County, in S California.
  • A. p. neutralis Ridgway, 1901 – S coastal California and extreme NW Mexico (N Baja California).
  • A. p. sonoriensis Ridgway, 1887 – SW USA (extreme S Nevada, SE California and Arizona) and NW Mexico (N Sonora).
  • A. p. fortis Ridgway, 1901 – USA E of Rocky Mts (in W Montana and SE Idaho E to W Nebraska and W Kansas, S to C & EC Arizona, C & SE New Mexico and N & W Texas); N populations migrate S to Gulf Coast.
  • A. p. phoeniceus (Linnaeus, 1766) – Red-winged Blackbird – SE Canada (S Quebec E to W Newfoundland and Nova Scotia) and E USA (E from Wisconsin, Iowa and E Nebraska, S to NE Texas, NE Louisiana and C Florida); N populations migrate S to at least Gulf Coast.
  • A. p. littoralis A. H. Howell & van Rossem, 1928 – coast of Gulf of Mexico from Texas E to Florida.
  • A. p. mearnsi A. H. Howell & van Rossem, 1928 – SC Florida.
  • A. p. floridanus Maynard, 1895 – S Florida (including Florida Keys).
  • A. p. bryanti Ridgway, 1887 – NW Bahamas.
  • A. p. nyaritensis Dickey & van Rossem, 1925 – Pacific coast from W Mexico (S from Nayarit) S to W El Salvador.
  • A. p. nelsoni Dickerman, 1965 – Morelos and Puebla, in SC Mexico.
  • A. p. grinnelli A. B. Howell, 1917 – El Salvador to NW Costa Rica (Guanacaste).
  • A. p. megapotamus Oberholser, 1919 – S Texas (extreme S USA) and E Mexico (S to N Veracruz).
  • A. p. richmondi Nelson, 1897 – S Veracruz S to N Costa Rica (Limón).
  • A. p. pallidulus Van Tyne & Trautman, 1946 – N Yucatán Peninsula, in SE Mexico.
  • A. p. arthuralleni Dickerman, 1974 – L Petén Itzá, in N Guatemala.
  • A. p. mailliardorum van Rossem, 1926 – C coastal California, in SW USA.
  • A. p. californicus Nelson, 1897 – C California (Central Valley).
  • A. p. gubernator (Wagler, 1832) – Bicolored Blackbird – C Mexico, from Durango S to Jalisco and Puebla.
  • Descriptive notes

    Male average 22·7 cm, 63·6 g; female average 18·5 cm, 41·5 g. Male nominate race is almost entirely dull black, with lesser upperwing-coverts red... read more


    Male song variable, consists of a few short notes followed by a long and loud nasal trill,... read more


    Marshes, ponds, roadside ditches, wet meadows, rice fields and other agricultural land, and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Seeds, also insects and other arthropods. Takes seeds of both wild plants, e.g. water grasses (Echinochloa) and filarees (... read more


    Season Mar–Jul in most of North America and Apr–Aug (sometimes to Nov) in Costa Rica. Mostly polygynous, ranging from... read more


    Populations in W USA, Mexico and farther S are mostly resident. Those in N & E North America (... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common to very common, and locally abundant. Global populations estimated at minimum of 200,000,000 individuals. Found in many modified environments... read more

    Recommended citation

    Fraga, R. (2020). Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 23 January 2020).