Beset By Blackbirds

Red-winged Blackbirds_LAH_8265_filteredWe had a wonderful white Christmas, and the landscape is blanketed in a couple of inches of snow. But with highs below freezing and a predicted low of 10°F tonight, I was naturally concerned about the birds. Early in the morning I bundled up and ventured out to fill my feeders. I added a block of suet to my suet cage, topped off the mesh nyjer feeder, and carried a huge scoop of black oil sunflower seeds to my platform feeder. I assumed the abundant juncos, finches, nuthatches, and chickadees would keep the snow cleared enough to feed. And, for a while, they did.

Not a redpoll.
Not Common Redpolls.

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And a partridge in a pear tree…

We’re all familiar with The Twelve Days of Christmas, maybe to the point where we don’t really listen to the words. Did you ever stop and realize that there are a lot of birds in that song? Think about it…

  • 7 swans a swimming
  • 6 geese a laying
  • 4 calling birds (probably originally “colly” birds)
  • 3 French hens
  • 2 turtle doves
  • and a partridge in a pear tree

According to Wikipedia, “Textual evidence indicates that the song was not English in origin, but French, though it is considered an English carol.” French or English, the birds are therefore European species, unfamiliar to Americans. Would we have wanted these birds as Christmas gifts?

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Red-Winged Blackbirds

As birders, we have a tendency to sneer at common species, even disparaging them as “trash birds.” One of my birding resolutions for 2011 is to learn to appreciate all species, no matter how mundane. Learning more about their lifestyles is a step in that direction.

red-winged-blackbird_fcnc-co_lah_1218-aEven before I was a birder, I could identify the male Red-winged Blackbird. Found in shallow marshes and other wetlands around the country, the black bird with the red and yellow shoulders is a familiar sight. Even the little drainage pond at the end of our street, with its sparse patch of cattails, is home to a few of these noisy blackbirds. (more…)