Red-winged Blackbirds and Great Blue Herons

Do Red-Winged Blackbirds and Great Blue Herons have any documented symbiotic relationship? I observed a pair today in which the RWBB rode on the back of the GBH and appeared to be preening the GBH’s feathers. He repeatedly landed on the GBH’s back and the GBH never seemed in the least perturbed by this behavior. Here are some photos of the 2.



What a great interaction between the two!
I do know that RWBB can be especially territorial during nesting/baby season in spring/summer, they will challenge opponents regardless of species and size (they have even swooped me before for getting too close to the cattails). It is possible that the heron got a little too close to someone’s nest. The behavior also reminds me of how some blackbirds will hop up onto cows and other livestock to eat insects crawling on them, they will also sometimes gather up fur/hair from them during nesting season and use it as nesting material.


The flapping wings in some images makes me think this is a red-winged blackbird trying to peck the heron into leaving, and failing. Thick feathers are a good insulator against pecks.

The thing about blue herons is, they’re predators. They would definitely eat red-winged blackbird chicks, and might even eat an adult blackbird, if opportunity hit and the fancy struck them. They’ll sure eat ducklings, and snakes, and baby alligators.


This doesn’t directly answer your question, but I’ve seen Red-winged Blackbirds mob and chase away Great Blue Herons in a few different circumstances. Piggy-backing off of what @boattailedgrackle suggested, I would imagine that RWBL just don’t play nice with other birds, and GBHE are big enough to not really care so much.


Based on what I observed, I wonder if it was a combination of events. The RWBB might have been steering the GBH away from a nest and took the opportunity to harvest a snack. It is hard to see on the photos, but at one point, the RWBB definitely found a snack. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :dove:

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