The Sounds of Blackbird Wings

Again this afternoon, a large flock of blackbirds came through our back yard and woods and stayed around for an hour or more. Today the weather was warm and balmy, with a silk-blue sky and only a few high, scattered white clouds.

Despite the calm weather, this time the birds were very difficult to see, because the sun was shining almost directly behind them. Also, the flock seemed even more skittish and flighty, with large numbers of them frequently moving from place to place, flying up into the trees, then dropping down to the ground again. The only ones I could see or hear for sure were Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.

Like all blackbird flocks, this one was loud, with a constant mix of harsh creaking, gurgling, and trilling calls that all together wouldn’t usually be described as peaceful or pleasant. But in contrast, the sounds of their wings can be enchanting.

When a large number of them burst up into flight at once, they make the very familiar sound so often heard in large flocks of blackbirds – like a blanket being snapped in the wind, a sudden clap, followed by a big, rushing swoosh of their wings all together. A fraction of a second before this burst of wings, there’s a sudden, abrupt silence of their clamorous calling – then comes the clap and the swoosh – and then the calls begin again immediately as they settle into a different spot, usually in the trees.

Today I also was charmed by another sound of their wings that I don’t remember noticing before. A large part of the flock had been startled into flying up into the trees just inside the woods. Their calls began again the second they touched the trees. After no more than a minute or two, a few began to drop down to the ground again and began tossing through the leaves – and then a great number of them began to shower down out of the trees to the ground, not all at once, but a flowing curtain of fluttering birds – and the sound they made as they came down was magical – a quiet sort of whispering, hissing, crackling, like the sound of sleet pattering down, dozens and then hundreds of blackbirds at a time.

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