Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 21–34 | Cite as

Territoriality among male red-winged blackbirds

I. Site fidelity and movement patterns
  • Les D. Beletsky
  • Gordon H. Orians


We examined male site fidelity and territorial movements in a population of individuallyidentifiable red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) over an 8-year period. Based on general theory and knowledge of the ecology of this population, we predicted that males would be site conservative, and that they would voluntarily change territories only when they could expect to improve significantly their reproductive success. Because males are absent from their territories for only short periods, and probably have accurate comparative information only about nearby territories on which to base their decisions, we predicted that most moves would be over short distances. About 70% of males that bred for more than 1 year retained their original territories between breeding years. Most of the 30% of males that changed territories moved less than 200 m, often to adjacent territories. As predicted, males moving less than 200 m tended to have better reproductive success after moving than before, whereas long distance movers did not improve their success after moving. Territorial male redwings appear to monitor breeding activity on nearby territories and move when significant potential benefits are perceived and opportunities exist. Long-distance moves may be involuntary ones. The amount of information possessed about present and alternative sites, and the time and opportunity required to collect the information, are probably major constraints influencing site conservatism in this and other territorial species.


Short Distance Reproductive Success Major Constraint Distance Mover Site Fidelity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beletsky LD, Orians GH (1985) Nest-associated vocalizations of female Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. Z Tierpsychol, 69:329–339Google Scholar
  2. Berndt R, Sternberg H (1969) Alters- and Geschlechtsunterschiede in der Dispersion des Trauerschnäppers (Ficedula hypoleuca). J Orn 110:22–26Google Scholar
  3. Case NA, Hewitt DH (1963) Nesting and productivity of the Red-winged Blackbird in relation to its habitat. Living Bird 2:7–20Google Scholar
  4. Catchpole CK (1972) A comparative study of territory in the reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) and sedge warbler (A. schoenobaenus). J Zool London 166:213–231Google Scholar
  5. Davies NB (1978) Ecological questions about territorial behavior. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, pp 317–350Google Scholar
  6. Davies NB, Houston AI (1981) Owners and satellites: the economics of territory defence in the pied wagtail Motacilla alba. J Anim Ecol 50:157–180Google Scholar
  7. Davies NB, Houston AI (1983) Time allocation between territories and flocks and owner-satellite conflict in foraging pied wagtails, Motacilla alba. J Anim Ecol 52:621–634Google Scholar
  8. Davies NB, Houston AI (1984) Territory economics. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology, 2nd ed, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, pp 148–169Google Scholar
  9. Gass CL, Angehr G, Centa J (1976) Regulation of food supply by feeding territoriality in the rufous hummingbird. Can J Zool 54:2046–2054Google Scholar
  10. Greenwood PJ, Harvey PH (1976) The adaptive significance of variation in breeding area fidelity of the Blackbird (Turdus merula L.). J Anim Ecol 45:887–898Google Scholar
  11. Greenwood PJ, Harvey PH (1982) The natal and breeding dispersal of birds. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 13:1–21Google Scholar
  12. Greig-Smith PW (1982) Dispersal between nest-sites by stonechats Saxicola torquata in relation to previous breeding success. Ornis Scand 13:232–238Google Scholar
  13. Hansen AJ, Rohwer S (1986) Converable badges and resource defence in birds. Anim Behav 34: 69–76Google Scholar
  14. Harvey PH, Greenwood PJ, Perrins CM (1979) Breeding area fidelity of great tits (Parus major). J Anim Ecol 48:305–313Google Scholar
  15. Hinde RA (1956) The biological significance of the territories of birds. Ibis 98:340–369Google Scholar
  16. Krebs JR (1971) Territory and breeding density in the great tit, Parus major. Ecology 52:534–536Google Scholar
  17. Krebs JR (1982) Territorial defence in the Great Tit (Parus major): Do residents always win? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 11:185–194Google Scholar
  18. Krebs JR, Ashcroft R, Webber MI (1978) Song repertoires and territory defence in the great tit (Parus major). Nature 271:539–542Google Scholar
  19. Lack D (1966) Population studies of birds. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  20. Lawn MR (1982) Pairing systems and site tenacity of the willow warbler Phylloscopus trochilus in southern England. Ornis Scand 13:193–199Google Scholar
  21. Martin SG (1974) Adaptations for polygynous breeding in the Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus. Am Zool 14:109–119Google Scholar
  22. Nero RW (1956a) A behavior study of the Red-winged Blackbird. I. Mating and nesting activities. Wilson Bull 68:5–37Google Scholar
  23. Nero RW (1956b) A behavior study of the Red-winged Blackbird. II. Territoriality. Wilson Bull 68:129–150Google Scholar
  24. Nice MM (1937) Studies in the life history of the song sparrow. I. A population study of the song sparrow. Trans Linn Soc NY 4:1–248Google Scholar
  25. Nice MM (1943) Studies in the life history of the song sparrow. II. The behavior of the song sparrow and other passerines. Trans Linn Soc NY 6:1–328Google Scholar
  26. Nolan V (1978) The ecology and behavior of the prairie warbler Dendroica discolor. Ornithol Monogr 26:1–595Google Scholar
  27. Orians GH (1961) The ecology of blackbird (Agelaius) social systems. Ecol Monogr 31:285–312Google Scholar
  28. Orians GH (1980) Some adaptations of marsh-nesting blackbirds. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  29. Orians GH, Christman GM (1968) A comparative study of the behavior of Red-winged, Tricolored, and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Univ Calif Publ Zool 84:1–81Google Scholar
  30. Peek FW (1971) Seasonal change in the breeding behavior of the male red-winged blackbird. Wilson Bull 83:383–395Google Scholar
  31. Peek FW (1972) An experimental study of the territorial function of vocal and visual displays in the male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Anim Behav 20:112–118Google Scholar
  32. Perrins CM (1979) British tits. Collins, LondonGoogle Scholar
  33. Petrinovich L, Patterson TL (1982) The White-crowned Sparrow: Stability, recruitment, and population structure in the Nuttall subspecies (1975–1980). Auk 99:1–14Google Scholar
  34. Picman J (1981) The adaptive value of polygyny in marshnesting Red-winged Blackbirds; renesting, territory tenacity, and mate fidelity of females. Can J Zool 59:2284–2296Google Scholar
  35. Rohwer S (1982) The evolution of reliable and unreliable badges of fighting ability. Am Zool 22:531–546Google Scholar
  36. Rohwer S (1986) Selection for adoption versus infanticide by replacement “mates” in birds. Curr Ornithol 3:353–395Google Scholar
  37. Rohwer S, Nolan V (1986) Within scason breeding dispersal in Prairie Warblers and other passerines (in press)Google Scholar
  38. Schartz RL, Zimmerman JL (1971) The time and energy budget of the male dickcissel (Spiza americana). Condor 73:65–76Google Scholar
  39. Searcy WA (1979a) Female choice of mates: A general model for birds and its application to Red-winged Blackbirds. Am Nat 114:77–100Google Scholar
  40. Searcy WA (1979b) Male characteristics and pairing success in Red-winged Blackbirds. Auk 96:353–363Google Scholar
  41. Searcy WA, Yasukawa K (1981) Sexual size dimorphism and survival of male and female blackbirds (Icteridae). Auk 98:457–465Google Scholar
  42. Verner J, Engelsen GH (1970) Territories, multiple nest building, and polygyny in the long-billed marsh wren. Auk 87:557–567Google Scholar
  43. Weatherhead PJ, Robertson RJ (1977) Harem size, territory quality, and reproductive success in the Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Can J Zool 55:1261–1267Google Scholar
  44. Wilson EO (1975) Sociobiology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  45. Woolfenden GE, Fitzpatrick JW (1984) The Florida scrub jay. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  46. Yasukawa K (1979) Territory establishment in Red-winged Blackbirds: importance of aggressive behavior and experience. Condor 81:258–264Google Scholar
  47. Yasukawa K (1981) Male quality and female choice of mate in the Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Ecology 62:922–929Google Scholar
  48. Yeaton RI, Cody ML (1974) Competitive release in island song sparrow populations. Theor Popul Biol 5:42–58Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Les D. Beletsky
    • 1
  • Gordon H. Orians
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, NJ-15University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations