Okay, so that's not a photo of a blackbird (it's a crow) and it's not singing in the dead of night (but in the daylight,) but it introduces my topic -- blackbirds -- so I used it. So sue me. Besides, I don't think Paul McCartney meant a specific blackbird in that song. Who knows?
But I do have a specific blackbird in mind for this edition of Dawn Chorus. I'm talking about the awesome and vocal bad-ass, the Red-winged Blackbird, one of the most abundant birds in the world.
A few looks:
The Red-winged Blackbird is ubiquitous across North America, almost as common as the city pigeon. With its glossy black coat and brilliant red and yellow shoulder patches, the male of the species is a handsome guy. As usual, the female is rather dull and brown, though still an attractive bird.
How widespread are Red-winged Blackbirds? Check out this range map. The better question might be where aren't they?
One of the coolest things about the Red-winged Blackbird though is its distinctive voice. Field guide descriptions of bird calls always leave me scratching my head, seeing a bunch of consonants grouped together with a vowel or two and that's supposed to represent the way the call sounds. It never works for me. But I love the Red-winged Blackbird's call and it's easy to insert a snippet to share. Check out this lovely two-minute video complete with the distinctive call of the male:
Red-winged Blackbirds can be found all over, but are particularly fond of fresh and saltwater marshes, along watercourses, and wet roadsides, as well as drier meadows and old fields. In winter, you can find them at crop fields, feedlots, and pastures. They especially love to perch among cattails.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
In the winter, Red-winged Blackbirds often flock together in large masses to feed on field grains. If you've never seen this activity, it's quite a sight to behold. I'm going to share with you a series of photos I took in November at the Yolo County Wildlife Reserve near Sacramento. Here, thousands of birds massed, rising and falling together as one, undulating flock that looked like a moving, organic sculpture.
This is a long photo series and is similar to the "Starling Murmuration" video that went viral on You Tube awhile back, though mine are still shots. But you'll get the idea. I'm following a small red car from a distance on the auto tour loop at the wildlife area and I conclude in the midst of the flock. It was awesome!
So, how many Red-winged Blackbirds were in these photos? Go ahead and hazard a guess! I'm also pretty sure there are some Brewer's Blackbirds, Tri-colors and a few Rusty Blackbirds mixed in there. I don't know about you, but I sure can't see them.
Although it's easy to look at these photos and know it was a cool experience to be there, what I can in no way describe to you is what the sound was like. Deafening, yes, but if you listened to that sound clip or know what the Red-winged Blackbird's call is like, I know you can imagine the cacophony. It was loud, it was amazing, it made me feel like I was in the presence of some natural force much larger than me -- a feeling that makes birding such a special, wondrous escape for many of us.
Upthread I mentioned the YouTube video showing a murmuration of starlings in Scotland. If you haven't seen it, it's here. https://www.youtube.com/... The photos here reflect a murmuration of blackbirds; it isn't exclusive to starlings. (Starlings are pretty universally considered pest birds, and I myself dislike them, but the video is breathtaking.)
Finally, unrelated to blackbirds or starlings, here are a few links to stories that have showed up in the last week or two in the New York Times that you may find of interest, particularly if you live in New York, but interesting for all.
Happy Sunday, all. It's Spring. Go bird!