19 Mar 2013

Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris)

Creature Feature, News of Asa Wright, Tropical Nature News

 

The Red-breasted Blackbird could not have had a more self-explanatory name. The males are exactly what you would picture: black with a brilliant red breast and throat. The females, on the other hand, may be a bit more difficult to identify. They are brown, streaked and have but a stain of light red on their underparts. The female’s association with a nearby mate is probably the easiest way to confidently identify it by sight. Males like to be seen, often occupying a prominent perch, while the retiring females may perch on a post or tuft of grass, or linger in the grass.

Recognising the call of the Red- breasted Blackbird can be an easier task. In a savannah, marsh or open grassland, listen for its song–a staccato chirp followed by a longer, somewhat metallic squeak. When on display, it gives a rattling call as it parachutes to the ground.

The Red-breasted Blackbird has only been occasionally seen in Tobago but is a permanent dweller of the aforementioned low-lying areas in Trinidad. Here, where it is also known as the Trinidad Robin, it breeds from March to December. This blackbird is also found in central and northern South America as far as Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

The 18 cm long Trinidad Robin eats a variety of insects along with rice and grass seeds. It makes a cup-shaped nest of fine grass and at times, plant down. The average clutch has between two to four eggs.

This member of the Icteridae family (American orioles and blackbirds) species is often parasitised by the Shiny Cowbird. Look out for this blackbird and you can decide which common name suits it best –the Soldier Bird, Trinidad Robin or Red- breasted Blackbird.

– J.L. Ryan

 

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