Sing a Song of Spring -Spring 2017

Red-winged Blackbirds Awaken Spring

by: Virginia Andrews

Sing a song of spring. On the Gray Lady, spring can be gray indeed. But if you listen to the birds, it could come out as“Oh-ka-Lay”or“Konk-a-ree”or“tee-err,” or sometimes just “Check-check-check.”

While other songbirds come and go, Red-winged Blackbirds monitor the progress of the season from their tree-top perches. Gathered in flocks all winter, chattering amongst themselves, when weather and light give the right cues, male Red-wings peel off and settle down at wetland edges. When they start tuning up and begin to display their colorful epaulets around island ponds, we know that spring is about to wake up, even on the grayest of gray days.

Edward Howe Forbush, whose voluminous three-volume 1927 “Birds of Massachusetts and other New England States” is still a classic worth perusing, described the blackbird call and habitat thus: “Its very notes carry a suggestion of boggy ooze, and its chuck, like that of other blackbirds, is frog-like. It has a strong predilection for the oozy slough and the ‘floating island,’ where the treacherous soggy turf gives beneath the incautious footstep and precipitates the adventurer into the dark and watery depths below.”

One gets the feeling this was written from personal experience. Indeed, despite vast improvements in optics and other technology of observation, falling into swamps is still an activity enjoyed by ornithologists today.

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