blackbird claw, raven wing…

blackbird claw, raven wing...

{A long post before a long break. I think I’m officially moving to one blog per month, barring extraordinary circumstances worth writing about. Anyhow. Back to birds.

People tend to be broadly familiar with the classics — robin, eagle, starling, crow — but distinctions break down quickly within a weight class. I can’t really blame them when it comes to the banties; brown is brown is brown unless you glimpse a flashy male or a snippet of sparrow song. The big black birds like Raven, Crow and Vulture can require a close look as well. But in the middle we find the redbirds, and bluebirds, and blackbirds, and if you’re already bothering to sort them by color it can’t hurt to learn their names. Because the bluebirds aren’t generally bluebirds, the Redbirds are a flock of sports teams, and even our blackbirds aren’t necessarily blackbirds.

The chief contender for “bluebird” here in the middle states would generally be the bluejay, as swallows and buntings aren’t half so fond of feeders. Their similarly-crested cardinal counterpart is the chief wearer of the of the “redbird” mantle, colloquially and otherwise … but the blackbirds are much more hazy. Some of them — and they are many — actually are “blackbirds” in true name, though generally not the sort of blackbird one thinks they are. There are the redwings and yellow-heads, of course; but they keep to the cattails and (with some irony) sport too much color to be the best “blackbird” candidates. Starlings do not claim themselves heir to the blackbirds of the old world or the new, but fit the bill well enough in appearance. Their conspicuous swarms do tend to give them a sort of infamy, though, and their true name is often known (spoken though it may be with a hiss of contempt). Cowbirds take the name often enough, though they’re just as often not noticed at all. It’s the shimmering summer grackle that best wears that generic “blackbird” title without ruffling a feather. They mob the lawns and parking lots on the first hot day, fluffing their oil-blue feathers and whistling their metal-on-metal shrieks to all who will listen. The indolent swagger and golden gaze make them even harder to miss.

And yet, the name “grackle” is not one they have chosen to advertise.
It’s no wonder, really. There is no verbal hint at appearance or tribe — blue jay, gold finch, bald eagle — nor the wide pool of references boasted by the proverbial crows, vultures, and doves of the world. It is perhaps an accurate reproduction of that that laborious locomotive-brake call, but we have a way of being visual creatures first and foremost.

Thus do I picture the Common Grackle when one speaks of seeing a blackbird (unless of course it’s a yellow beak and dark eyes, rather than the reverse, which means a simple swarm of starlings). Often they are not identified with any confidence even as that — of the common suburban birds, they are certainly one of the more obscure. This doesn’t stop them from flying in like they own the place, of course. This week’s picture of poor Shetland seeking refuge behind Pony is inspired by reports of a surly gang of grackles harassing a friend’s cat. The poor devil is afraid to leave the house when the feathered mob is roaming the grounds. It’s certainly an image both comic and tragic, the cat plagued by birds. But on the bright side, at least his protector now knows what to call them as she chases them onto the neighbor’s lawn…}

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One thought on “blackbird claw, raven wing…

  1. Pingback: Jay and blackbird bathing together, video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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