A Mixed Flock of Blackbirds

About 11:30 this morning I heard a sudden big whoosh of wings outside my office window, and when I looked, sure enough, the front yard was full of Blackbirds, several hundred perched in the bare limbs of the trees and spread over the grass and pine needles and leaf mulch, all making a racket in creaky, gurgling, chucking calls.

Although the largest number of Blackbirds in the neighborhood recently have been Red-wings, most of this flock were Common Grackles, gleaming iridescent black, with pale eyes, long tails and large, thick bills, looking sleek and handsome, especially the ones in the sunlight. It was a cold, clear, sunny day, and earlier in the morning the yard had been pretty busy with Titmice, Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Dark-eyed Juncos.

The Grackles took over completely, crowding impatiently onto the bird baths – as many as nine at a time trying to squeeze onto the rim of one – and covered the ground in a swarm, vigorously tossing up pine needles and leaves all over the place, and apparently finding something to eat there, maybe insects, maybe seeds. One Grackle held a large acorn in its bill. Several big Grackles also clung awkwardly to both feeders, pushing and shoving for a spot as they swung back and forth.

Red-winged Blackbirds were mixed in with the Grackles, plus a few Rusty Blackbirds and at least one Brown-headed Cowbird. In the bare limbs of one tree, two Common Grackles, one male Red-winged Blackbird and three male Rusty Blackbirds perched together, giving me a good opportunity to see and compare them – each quite different from the others, making me wonder why I sometimes have so much trouble distinguishing among them, even in a restless, quickly moving flock.

Several times they all flew up into the trees when something startled them, then pretty quickly filtered back onto the ground and feeders and bird baths. I watched from inside, through unscreened windows, because I knew if I opened a door and went out they’d all fly away. So I couldn’t see the whole flock well enough to get a good estimate of how large it was, but as they drifted on down the street after about 20 or 30 minutes, a cloud of several hundred rose up together at one point.

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