Alva Review-Courier -

Huge flocks of wintering blackbirds vaguely reminiscent of Hitchcock's "The Birds"

 

January 25, 2019

Kathleen Lourde

A huge flock of blackbirds suddenly descended on a country house southwest of Dacoma yesterday morning, filling the air with wildly darting birds, covering the upper branches of every tree in sight, and raising an unholy ruckus for half an hour before moving on.

The Review-Courier asked Greg Highfill at the Alva OSU Extension office if he could help us identify the birds, and he got in touch with wildlife specialist Tim O'Connell, PhD, an associate professor at Oklahoma State University's Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management.

O'Connell examined the photo and wrote back, saying "the group of birds we call "blackbirds" (...) includes birds that just about everybody in the country knows, like Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, those big Great-tailed Grackles that hang out in the Walmart parking lots, etc. Orioles and meadowlarks are also blackbirds, even though they aren't black. Crows and starlings are black, but they're not blackbirds."

However, the flocking behavior of this group rules out grackles, starlings, crows and cowbirds, he said. "The two best candidates are Red-winged Blackbird and Brewer's Blackbird. Both will gather in big flocks in winter and spend time probing fields and lawns for grubs or looking for waste grain in fields. Of the two, Red-winged is a bit more likely just given what people have been reporting recently, i.e., big flocks of Redwings but just one or two Brewer's here and there."

But since these birds appear to be solid black – "even in poor light she (the photographer) should've seen at least a few males with the bright red wing patches in flight if they were Redwings. I don't see any red or other pattern in the photo either. So I think they're Brewer's Blackbirds," he concluded.

"Even though Brewer's haven't been reported much around Alva this winter, they've been there before and it's well within their wintering range," he said. "The other funny thing about them is that they so often stay in tight flocks in the winter that they can be easy to overlook. If you're not right there in the field where they're feeding you won't see any of them, but if you are there you might find hundreds. So that's my quasi-informed guess: Brewer's Blackbird!"

Learn more about ornithology and landscape ecology from O'Connell's blog, timoconnell.wordpress.com.

 

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