Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Red-winged, Grackles and Cowbirds, "Oh my!"

Witnessing Spring Blackbird Migration

Taking a wrong turn led us (my husband and I) to seeing this bumper crop of blackbirds. We were suddenly in a Hitchcock scene. After watching miles of blackbirds flood past us we finally parked the car to watch .. our jaws locked open. By the thousands, blackbird after blackbird traveled through fields along a rural country road in Earlville, Illinois. My head felt like the carriage return bar on a type writer ..... back and fourth, and quickly back again. They just kept coming!

 The star of the show for me was this rusty blackbird in the mix.  This one is still molting  into adult color. Adult males have a dark sleek sheen all over. By spring most of the rusty feather edges of a rusty blackbird have faded. I was blessed to see this phase, wrong turns sometimes happen for a reason. Yes, that’s right, I am justifying getting lost.

As we sat back to watch the show, a scene from the Three Stooges emerged. Larry the rusty blackbird, Mo the red-winged blackbird and Curly the brown-headed cowbird work the field for available seed and food.

Communication is key as they move. Instinctually they spread the word, a sudden downpour of birds land in the field. This stretch of farmland provided good nutrition and seed for the many types of blackbirds that traveled together in this massive flock. As the flock passes each destination in their route I imagine that a batch of each type drop away from the group to choose their spring home until the flock has dispersed.

I noticed that many of the female birds stayed along the outer edges to feed while the males took center field. These are female brown-headed cowbirds.

I believe the lighter birds in this passing flock may be female brown-headed cowbirds. Watching so many pass by at once makes your head spin. It is really hard to take in so much stimuli at one time. Focus is really difficult. Can you imagine being a hawk or other predator noticing this flock? The movement and noise would be so overwhelming to it’s senses that it probably would hesitate to approach. I wouldn't know which one to go for. I am sure that is one of the reasons blackbirds form these enormous flocks as they migrate to their new spring homes.

Blackbirds, Grackles and Cowbirds, “Oh my!” 


Happy Spring!