The Red-breasted Blackbird, Sturnella militaris, is a passerine bird in the New World family Icteridae. Despite its name and colouration, it is in the same genus as the meadowlarks, and is less closely related to the Red-winged Blackbird group. It is unrelated to the European Blackbird, which is a thrush.
Distribution / Range
The Red-breasted Blackbird breeds from southwestern Costa Rica, which it has recently colonised, and Trinidad, south to northeastern Peru and central Brazil.
Like other meadowlarks, it is a bird associated with open country, including moist grasslands, pasture and cultivation, preferably with the odd bush or fence post for males to use as a songpost. In display the male flies up to 10 m in the air, then parachutes down on folded wings whist singing a wheezing song, ti-ti-pee-pee-KWAAAAAA. The call is a short tsip.
The Red-breasted Blackbird builds a deep grass-lined open cup nest on the ground amongst tall grasses, with several nests often close together. The normal clutch is two to four reddish brown-blotched cream eggs.
Red-breasted Blackbird is a small icterid, 19 cm long and weighing 48 g (male) or 40 g (female). The male has mainly black plumage, apart from a bright red throat, belly and wing epaulets (patches). This striking “redcoat” plumage gives rise to the specific name militaris and the Trinidadian name “Soldier Bird”.
The female has buff edged dark brown upperpart feathers, buff underparts with a reddish tinge, and pale streaks through the crown and eye. Juveniles resemble the female, but are paler and lack the reddish tint to the underparts.
This species is very closely related to the White-browed Blackbird, S. superciliaris which breeds further south, and was formerly considered to be subspecies of Red-breasted Blackbird.
The male White-browed is easily distinguished by his bright white supercilium (line above eye), but females of the two species are almost identical.
Female Red-breasted Blackbird is longer billed, smaller, and shorter winged than its relative, with more red and less streaking on the underparts.
Diet / Feeding
This gregarious bird feeds mainly on insects and some seeds, including rice, and forages on the ground like a Bobolink.
Red-breasted Blackbird has benefited from the more open habitat created by forest clearance and ranching, and is extending its range.
It is uncertain whether sightings on Tobago represent a small breeding population or wanderers from Trinidad or South America.