Angry birds!

Not the video game, but a couple of hyper-active, territorial male American Redstarts.

american redstarts fighting

As I walked down a narrow lane at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center near Spicer, MN, I could see a different American Redstart male flitting about and singing quite insistently about every 100-200 feet.  It was quite an amazing density of just one warbler species in this narrow tract of forest that bordered a large cattail swamp.

This was one of the combatants, proudly defending his small stretch of trees from other singing males.

This was one of the combatants, proudly defending his small stretch of trees from other singing males.  Song is not only for the benefit of any females around, but it is a “keep out” signal to other males, not to encroach on the singer’s space. Males will often sing right on the edge of their territory to let other males know where the boundaries are.

Something triggered a chase that involved 3-4 males darting back and forth through the conifers on the opposite side of the road, and then finally two of them really went at it, clutching at each other and falling to the ground to continue the battle.

american redstarts fighting

Perhaps one of these males was trying to invade the other’s space.  When singing doesn’t warn them off, the antagonistic behavior escalates to chasing. If that doesn’t drive the interloper away, then a demonstration of physical superiority is necessary, which is probably what happened here.

Male birds usually don’t resort to physical contests; it’s energetically wasteful and physically dangerous.  Intensity of color, vigor of their sound production, and energy of their territory defense are usually the only signals necessary to ward off potential competitors.

This bird was one of the ones getting chased around.  He kept landing on a limb near my head, so I managed to get a full frame photo.  I noticed the black on his chest does not reach as far down as the first bird above, and his orange coloration is not as intense.  Perhaps this is a younger, less experienced bird.

This little Redstart was one of the ones getting chased around. He kept landing on a limb near my head, so I managed to get a full frame photo. I noticed the black on his chest does not reach as far down as the singing male above, and his orange coloration is not as intense. Perhaps this is a younger, less experienced bird.

7 thoughts on “Angry birds!

    • That part yes, and then there’s the long distance migration that preceded it, and feeding those hungry and demanding chicks, and then there’s another long, arduous migration the other direction. I think birds must look forward to winter when there is less “to do”.

    • Thanks Kathy, I am just on a field trip binge right now. But six hours of walking through prairie and forest just about did me in.

    • It’s amazing that they don’t wound each other with those sharp beaks, and it certainly looked like the one Redstart was pecking at the head of the other. But no blood was spilled.

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