A Large Blackbird Flock – Common Grackles, Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds

On another cold afternoon, the temperature barely above freezing, a blue sky, bright sun and lots of active birds made the day feel warmer than it was. During a walk of an hour and a half, I counted 33 species, including one Red-tailed Hawk; Red-headed, Red-bellied and Downy Woodpecker; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Brown-headed Nuthatch, both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Brown Thrasher – and a blackbird flock with Common Grackles and both Red-winged and Rusty Blackbirds. Blackbirds have been scarce here this winter so far – so I was happy to see a flock that seemed fairly large.

Gathered in the branches of several oaks and pecan trees, and spread out in restless, milling crowds across three or four yards, there may have been around 1,000 birds – a very rough guess. The harsh creaking, gurgling, and trilling sounds of their calls were very loud.

The greatest number seemed to be Common Grackles. Big, iridescent black birds with yellow eyes, long tails, long legs and imperious bearing, they vigorously tossed up leaves and mulch with heavy bills and stopped often to raise their heads and look around. They walked around with a swagger. When they moved into pools of sunlight, their plumage glistened and shimmered with bronze and purple colors. I watched as several pulled up long wiggling worms from leaf-covered ground.

Among the Grackles also were a good many Red-winged Blackbirds, smaller, and feeding in less bold and flamboyant ways, heads more often down than up, often seeming to crouch rather than stand. The colors in the wings of most only showed up as narrow strips of red and yellow.

As usual, the flock as a whole was very skittish, moving further away whenever I got close – sometimes with a shiver of wings as a few shifted away – sometimes with a sudden thunder of wings as a large group burst up together and into the trees.

One small group of about a dozen Rusty Blackbirds perched in the limbs of a pecan tree near the edge of the road. All of these were males, black with yellow eyes, a buffy stripe above the eye, thin pointed bills and rusty patterns of color on the back and wings and chest.

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