Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bicolored Blackbird

While at the Monarch Grove near Pismo Beach last March, Erika and I noted that the local Red-winged Blackbirds lacked yellow under their red epaulets. These birds are a distinct race of the Red-winged Blackbird found in the Central Valley of California. They are called Bicolored Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus californicus. According to Yasukawa and Searcy (1965), the loss of the yellow color in the Red-winged Blackbird may be a species-isolating mechanism to keep this race from interbreeding with the Tricolored Blackbird, which also occurs in the region.

I have long wondered about the derivation of the Red-winged Blackbird's species name, phoeniceus. Grusonwrites that the word comes from the Latin for deep red, in turn originating from the Greek for Phoenician. Apparently the Phoenicians introduced the color to Greece. Gruson continues, "the...root of the word is 'to slay,' and thus create the blood-red color."

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