A Female Rusty Blackbird and a Sharp-shinned Hawk

Late this afternoon, the sky was a clear, cool blue and the sun was sinking low as I went out for a walk. A Northern Flicker perched in the top of a tree in one yard, a House Finch and a Bluebird sang, and a few Cedar Waxwings flew over – but there don’t seem to be nearly as many Cedar Waxwings now as there were a week or two ago, when small flocks were scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Two Pileated Woodpeckers flew across the road ahead of me, one followed by the other, in the same wooded area around the middle of the neighborhood where I’ve often seen them recently. And I could hear the noisy chucking and creaking of the usual large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles spread out further up the hill.

When I saw a slender bird facing the sun in the bare top branches of a pecan tree by the side of the road, I almost didn’t stop to check it out, but did, and through binoculars saw a taupe-colored bird with a thin, pointed bill – and a big bright yellow-gold eye. It was a female Rusty Blackbird in breeding plumage, with the sunlight giving her gray breast a warm brownish glow. I could hardly have been more surprised. I’ve been trying to find some Rusties among the mixed flock of Blackbirds that have stayed around for several weeks, but until now had not been able to find any since last fall.

As I watched, a small group of other Blackbirds flew over, making rather quiet chucking calls, and she flew with them.

About twenty minutes later, as I was on my way home and passing back through the same area, the large flock had moved in and settled restlessly in the trees and on the grass, and I found a few Rusty Blackbird males among them, all in glossy black breeding plumage, with no remnants of their rusty winter coloring.

A little further down the road, about the time the sun was going down, a bird of a different kind flew toward me, flapping and gliding, several feet above the treetops so that it still caught the light of the sun. It was a Sharp-shinned Hawk – the second one I’ve seen in a week, when I almost never see one at all. So I could hardly believe my luck. It flew directly over me, and I had a perfect view of its shape, with the long, distinctly square-tipped tail, small head and short, broad wings. It flapped quickly and glided, flapped quickly and glided, several times, and all in all, it was the clearest, best view I’ve ever enjoyed of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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