By MDC | February 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: February 2023

Got a question for Ask MDC? Send it to or call 573-522-4115, ext. 3848.

Q: Do red-winged blackbirds live in Missouri year-round?

These common, permanent residents are widespread and abundant in Missouri. Streaky females are well-camouflaged for reedy nesting habitats, unlike the black males with their red wing patches.

This species prefers marshes, moist grasslands, and wet roadside ditches. They are often visible in reedy ditches along Missouri’s roadways. In late summer and fall, they are often present in large flocks in crop fields. During migration and in winter, red-winged blackbirds roost at night in cattails and other tall emergent marsh vegetation, or with other blackbirds in tree roosts that may include millions of individuals. On winter mornings, these large roosts spread out, foraging as far as 50 miles for food before reforming in flocks at night.

They are considered by some observers to be the most abundant bird in North America.

Q: A neighbor observed a single deer approaching a group of 30 Canada geese and slowly encircling the flock. He said it almost looked like herding behavior. The deer then walked into the center and scattered the geese to flight. A single goose did confront the deer and the deer jumped over it. The geese were grazing on a patch of grass at our local park. Can you help explain what happened?

It is likely the deer was attempting to scare the geese away from the patch of grass, clover, or weeds they were occupying so that it could feed. And in turn, the geese were defending their food source. In the dead of winter, there is little for deer or other herbivores to eat, making for fierce competition over what little food can be found. Clover and other weedy plants are still green this time of year and can be found in open spaces. This food source would be attractive to both deer and geese. Canada geese can be aggressive; presumably, this was not the deer’s first run-in with them, due to the level of caution displayed by the deer.

Q: Every summer I have pairs of Baltimore and orchard orioles attracted to my bird feeders in my yard. For years I’ve searched for a nest, which should be visible in the winter. I think I’ve finally found one — not 15 feet from my deck. Can you identify this nest for me?

Both Baltimore and orchard orioles weave sock-like, pendulous nests near the tips of tree branches. Although no knots are tied, the bird’s random poking tangles the fibers. Males might bring materials, but only the female does the weaving. Fibers from old nests are sometimes recycled.

Orchard orioles’ nests often are hidden in a tree’s green leaves and Baltimore orioles tend to anchor their nests from the fork of a tree’s slender upper branches. Both species’ nests are woven of long green grass blades and lined with fine grass, plant fuzz, and feathers. Orchard orioles tend to build their nests more quickly than Baltimore orioles.

Since these two species’ nests are very similar, it’s tough to determine your nest’s original builder. However, to find out which species may be nesting near you, we recommend looking for nests during breeding season. By watching birds come and go, you may be able to better pinpoint which species might be weaving which nests in your vicinity. Male Baltimore orioles have a flame-orange breast, whereas the breast of the orchard oriole is reddish-chestnut. Females of both species are yellowish.


This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler