Red-breasted blackbird (Sturnella militaris)

GenusSturnella (1)
SizeLength: 17 – 19 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The red-breasted blackbird is so-named for the spectacular pinkish-red patch found on the breast and throat of the adult male (3). With the exception of two pinkish patches at the bend of the wing, the rest of the male’s feathers are black, with lighter brown edges that are progressively worn away as the bird ages, eventually resulting in a uniform black appearance. The female has less striking plumage, with mostly brown feathers on the body and head, and a hint of reddish colouration on the breast. Immature red-breasted blackbirds resemble the female, but lack the reddish breast colouration altogether, and have black streaked underparts (2).

The red-breasted blackbird is found throughout almost all of central and northern South America, from Argentina, northwards through Brazil and neighbouring countries, to Panama and Costa Rica. It is also found on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago (1) (2).

Mainly occupying open country, the red-breasted blackbird can be found in humid fields with low vegetation, wet savanna, marshy areas and the edges of forests (1) (2).

The red-breasted blackbird is most commonly encountered foraging for insects and seeds in bushes, low trees and sometimes on the ground (3) (4). Occupying an open environment means that this species is vulnerable to aerial predators such as hawks, hence when alarmed, the red-breasted blackbird will produce a pist call to alert other conspecifics of danger (2).

During the breeding season (March to mid-November in Trinidad), other vocalisations are produced, such as a tsi-li-li-EE song made by the male during display flights (4) (5). After mating a deep, cup-shaped nest is constructed from grass stems lined with finer grass, which is placed on the ground and hidden amongst vegetation (2) (3). A clutch of two to four eggs is normally laid, but frequently additional eggs are deposited by the glossy cowbird, a brood parasite (5). These eggs are then unwittingly incubated and brooded by the red-breasted blackbird, often to the detriment of its own offspring (5) (6).

There are currently no major threats to this species’ survival (1). Indeed, unlike most species, the red-breasted blackbird is actually benefitting from the catastrophic levels of deforestation occurring in South America. It readily colonises the increasingly widespread areas of open habitat, cultivated fields and airports, and its range is appears to be expanding (2).

While there are currently no specific conservation measures in place for the red-breasted blackbird (1), it is likely to be present in several protected areas throughout its range (7).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)