Red-winged blackbirds are relatively common in Illinois, and they make themselves noticed! The red-winged blackbird is native to prairie areas, although it has adapted to suburban areas as well, perching on fenceposts instead of grass stems. The bird's name comes from its vibrant red shoulder feathers (called epaulets), which are present only in males of the species. It also has quite a distinctive call, a shrill sort of chirping sound. (You can listen to the sound it makes here
The red-winged blackbird is common not only in Illinois, but in many other places as well. It can live all the way up to southern Alaska, and as far south as some areas in Mexico. It can live anywhere where there is open space, so in addition to prairies, it also likes marshes and open fields. It is a migratory bird, especially the further north it lives, so red-winged blackbirds are more likely to be found further south in winter, as well as further north in summer.
This bird feeds mostly on nuts and seeds, but it also can feed on insects and other invertebrates. In agricultural areas, it feeds upon the seeds of crops, so it is considered a pest in a lot of places. It is illegal to use a pesticide to control red-winged blackbird populations in the U.S., however, because it is considered a songbird. This bird also is a social bird, and tends to roost in colonies. Groups of them can form extremely large flocks as well, often making a flock big enough to look like a black cloud. They can coexist peacefully with other birds that share their food, including grackles, jays and chickadees.
If you want to attract red-winged blackbirds to your back yard, mixed seed in your birdfeeder and suet attached to a tree should usually do it. Since the red-winged blackbird eats almost anything, it is relatively easy to attract, especially if your back yard is a large space. So keep watch for these birds during the spring and summer, and make sure to listen, in case a red-winged blackbird is calling into the sky.