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Monday, February 27, 2012

The blackbirds cometh!

Here at the end of February, flocks of blackbirds are beginning to show up in the yard for the first time this winter. Mostly Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. I haven't seen a single grackle so far.

That's odd, really. A few years ago, one of the things that we could count on in winter was that huge flocks of Common Grackles would invade our street in mid to late winter. It was not unusual to see flocks of several thousand covering three or four front yards at a time as they made their way down the street. But for the last couple of years, the grackles have been mostly absent and this winter there have been none so far.

There are plenty of Brown-headed Cowbirds around though and that's not necessarily good news for the birds whose nests they parasitize, chiefly warblers. They are handsome birds, but it is hard to enjoy them when one realizes the misery they can cause.

Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds often travel in mixed flocks in winter. Here, there are three male cowbirds in back with one lighter-colored female. In front are four female Red-wings. The female Red-wings look like big sparrows with their striped appearance. I quite like them. I think they are very attractive birds, as pretty in their own way as their more dramatically colored mates.

A group of female Red-wings feed peaceably with a female Northern Cardinal.

While the females like feeding in a group on the ground, the male Red-wings often visit the feeders, especially the one containing sunflower hearts.

It won't be long now before the blackbirds and the other birds in the yard will begin pairing up and settling down for the nesting season.

Many people disparage and dislike blackbirds, but I find them very interesting birds. Although you could never tell it from their voices, they are first cousins to orioles. You can see that in their body shape and posture and in the shape of their beaks. But in the extended family, the orioles got almost all the musical talent. I do like the conk-a-ree song of the Red-winged Blackbird though. It's a very pleasant background music for a late spring afternoon.

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