Sunday, February 27, 2011

Red-winged Blackbird

A freshly arrived Red-winged Blackbird stakes his turf from the stubby crown of a Sandbar Willow in western Franklin County, today.

The floodgates of early bird arrivals really opened today. Warm southerly breezes ushered in temperatures pushing 60 degrees, and Turkey Vultures were riding the currents northward. Killdeers were loudly shrieking in every muddy field, and watery spots were filled with Canada Geese, Mallards and other fowl, and scores of migrant Ring-billed Gulls acted robinlike in the barren fields.

To me, no bird speaks spring like the Red-winged Blackbird. When the stunning males take up their posts and burble out their sputtery Konk-ah-ree-Onks, we've turned the corner and winter will soon be a distant memory. Where there were none of these last week, today, they are everywhere.

As a little kid, I was astonished that such an incredible bird could exist. While still in the single digits of age, no one was telling me that Red-wings were "trash birds", or so common as to not be noteworthy. Each spring, a few gaudy males would visit our backyard feeding stations and strut their stuff. And even though armed with only a bicycle, I didn't have to pedal far from home to find territorial blackbirds conspicuously posting their territorial borders.

I thought they were of the utmost coolness. And still do.

Watch a male on territory, such as the one in these photos. He'll sit there for a minute, watching for other males that are bold or stupid enough to enter his domain. Then, in a spectacular show, the bird will inhale, visible puff up, fan his tail and splay those magnificent wings forward like a bodybuilder doing a most-muscular pose. Those scarlet-red shoulder epaulets, trimmed in gold, just explode into flames of color in a scene that's nearly unrivaled amongst our songbirds.

In a week or so, the much more muted female Red-wings will arrive and the males will turn the charm knob up to 10. Wait'll you see one of 'em strutting around one of the hens, throwing out those shoulders and Konk-a-reeing with all his might. It's quite the spectacle.

If Red-winged Blackbirds were rare as Painted Buntings in Cleveland, we'd all go crazy over this bird.


Randy Kreager said...

YES! Kenn Kaufman & I were out on the causeway, at Magee, after our board meeting yesterday. Magee was full of red-wings, spread out through the marsh. Kenn heard a killdeer and I saw 2 sandhill cranes. We ended the night by listening for woodcock and we think we heard one in the distance. Spring can't be far off!!

Sarah said...

Yes! these are so beautiful. i see them when I'm driving the back roads and love to see the splash of colors against the black background. what a delight :)

Jenny said...

I just found your blog and I love your writings, your beautiful photography and your voice! Speak the truth! Love your 4-acres of violets post and 2011 earth day posts. Naturally, I had to check for any posts about Red-winged Blackbirds because I've made several protest artworks/community happenings related to the USDA poisoning of blackbirds! Here's a link to my piece "Black Birds/White Rice". I also created two other iterations in manure and sunflower seed, "Bird Bombs" and later shredded USDA farm policy made into paper embedded with sunflower and wildflower seed folded into paper airplane birds, "Crop Dusting". Thought you might enjoy!! My best to you! Jen

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for sharing your excellent works, Jen, and go get 'em! The blackbirds, Red-winged or otherwise, need us defenders!