September 28, 2012

Your bird watching questions answered - blackbird migration

I received this video from Dan in Spencer, MA along with an email stating, "I came home from work tonight and found these birds in several of my trees. Any idea what they are? I have never witnessed anything like it." Dan's backyard was layover for one of the great mixed-flocks of fall migration—blackbirds. “Blackbird” is a catchall term for several species of New England birds. Unlike warblers, thrush, vireos and the other neotropical migrants blackbirds are daytime migrants and make themselves known by congregating in large, noisy flocks. As with the neotropical migrants blackbirds return to New England in the early Spring and leave us in the fall making September and early October a great time to witness large, noisy flocks.  

Backyard Beasts
Dan’s experience was made memorable not only by the surprising number of birds but by the cacophony of sound that a flock of blackbirds can create. While the volume on this video may not do justice to the experience we can unfold the symphony by examining the members of the orchestra. Grackles and Red-winged blackbirds both have an enormous array of loud, squawky, metallic calls and songs. European starlings (introduced to North America from Europe) are in the family with Myna Birds and have tremendous vocal dexterity, mimicking hawks, cats, and even human speech. Cowbirds are capable of hitting high notes that push the level of human hearing, what has been called the “computer on the fritz” call. Rusty blackbirds are the rarest of the group but can be found around swampy ponds making their, “squeaky door” call. Listen to each of these of five species on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.
Please continue to send in your questions or photographs to the Daily Bird New England

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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