I focused my little camera in high-speed video mode (120 frames per second) on a male Red-winged Blackbird resting atop a fennel stalk, as they will. I hoped to get a detailed slow motion sequence of the bird flying off, so that I could get a better picture of its wing technique. What I got was something else entirely. A female joined him and they touched beaks. She then went into what seemed like pleading mode, getting low, flapping her wings quickly, and crying. (There is no audio track with this high-speed shot.) He basically ignored her and flew off. She cried and flapped very piteously, and another female arrived as if to help, with food in her beak. But the movement to pass the food into the pleading bird’s beak didn’t come off. The donor bird flew away with the food still in her beak. Moments later the pleading bird flew off also.
What did it all mean? I haven’t a clue. The blackbirds have a very active social life and quite likely a complex social organization. At this stage of the breeding season, when the nests are built and the eggs are laid and starting to hatch, I’ve seen the females gather in sizeable crowds and talk among themselves. I’ve seen males go deep into the nearby ice plant beds and come out with something in their beaks, probably bugs. Possibly the behavior I observed has something to do with a female asking for food for her hatchlings. If so, she came up empty this time.