Medium-sized, sexually dimorphic blackbird with medium-length, slender bill. Male displays delayed plumage maturation; third-year and older male is glossy black with "epaulets" of red (for which species is named) bordered with yellow on wrist (bend) of wing. Second-year male is highly variable in plumage, from female-like brown with heavily streaked breast to black with brown flecks; epaulets are also variable, typically red-orange with brown or black spotting. Female also shows some delayed plumage maturation, but less than male. All females are mottled brown above and heavily streaked below with a prominent white eyebrow stripe. Third-year and older females are variable in throat (pink to buffy) and epaulet (dull orange to bright red-orange) color. Second-year females are less variable, throat and face light pink, epaulets brown to salmon (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Western Hemisphere Range
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are from March 10 to April 5 and September 20 to October 20.
Breeds in a variety of wetland and upland habitats. Wetland habitats include freshwater marsh, saltwater marsh, and rice paddies. Upland breeding habitats commonly include sedge meadows, alfalfa fields and other crop lands and old fields. Roosts in habitats with dense cover (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995).
During the nonbreeding season, diet is primarily plant matter. During breeding season, diet is primarily animal matter with some plant matter (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995).
Nests are commonly placed in wetland, upland, and agricultural habitats, occasionally in urban parks and suburban habitats. Nest is an open cup. Eggs are typically oval. Pale blue-green to gray in color, overlaid with streaks, blotches and spots. Mean clutch size varies from 2.43 to 3.70 (Yasukawa and Searcy 1995). Near Fortine, egg dates range from May 27 to June 15. Statewide, nesting is from mid-May through June.