Semaphore is a way to communicate over distance using colored flags.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds know how to do this – only they use feathers. Male Red-wings have two sets of colored feathers on their “shoulders.” Bright red and yellow, they’re called “epaulettes.” Here’s where things get interesting. Males flash different combinations of these colors depending upon their intentions. For instance, a stationary male singing while thrusting his shoulders forward and displaying red is either trying to defend his territory from other males or attract a female. (Gotta look tough!) Male Red-wings resting in their own territories and not on high alert will show both red and yellow. (Taking a time out.) While those resting in another Red-wing’s territory will hide both colors. (I come in peace!) Finally, a group of Red-wings eating at your feeder will all douse their colors as much as possible to keep from confrontation. (Can’t we all just get along?)
Look for male Red-winged Blackbirds at your feeders all year long (sometimes mixed in with Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds) but especially in February and into March when this Spring bird will fill the air with its distinctive “conk-la-lee” song.
Black-oil Sunflower seeds (appropriately enough) will keep your Red-Winged Blackbirds happy!