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NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. – Harsh, gurgling, unsettling, just a few words that people use to describe the call of the Red-winged Blackbird. My fellow correspondent Billy and I heard this sound for ourselves when we went birdwatching with our Tweatspeak class for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

So what is the GBBC? It’s is an annual event that my correspondent and I participated in as part of our Tweetspeak class requirement. As “volunteers” of this event we earned the titles of citizen scientists as we went out looking for birds in a designated area and later reporting our findings to an online database known as ebird. This information is received by ornithologists to aid and further their research and to promote conservation efforts.

During that unusually warm February morning in northwestern Pennsylvania, periodic precipitation opened the door for a damp and muddy atmosphere. The temperature hit about 70 degrees and the humidity was evident.

The assignment that Billy and I were tasked with was to locate any species of bird that was perceived as rare and/or uncommon to northwestern Pennsylvania at this time of year. It wasn’t until about two hours into our bird watching expedition that we spotted the Red-winged Blackbird, sitting at the top of a telephone pole.Jet black plumage with partial red and yellow stripe patterned wing bars, it appeared to us larger than a house sparrow but definitely smaller than a Crow. Due to sexual dimorphism or separate distinct characteristics of an individual based on gender,  it was easy to identify this particular individual as a male Red-winged Blackbird. Females generally have checkered colored plumage of brown and white with shades of yellow on the face.

Now if you know anything about Red-winged Blackbirds you might ask, well what exactly is so rare about this species to northwestern Pennsylvania? Isn’t a fairly common in this area? To answer those questions, we have to look more into the bird’s biological background.

According to audubon.org, Red-winged Blackbirds are indeed year-round residents of this part of the country. However, this time of year marks their usual migration period when they would leave for the winter.

But that still leaves a couple questions. If the Red-winged Blackbird is supposed to be away for migration, why is it back so early and so unexpectedly? It might have something to do with the Red-winged Blackbird’s diet consisting mostly of insects and seeds. Most insects aren’t active when it is snowing out and fruits don’t bloom in the cold. The unusually warm weather during our birding expedition provided ideal conditions for food availability to the Red-winged Blackbird.

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