Foam Lake Birding No. 4

No. 4
In the first three articles, I have covered members of two groups of birds, sparrows and finches. I use the term “group” rather loosely to lump together birds that usually are closely related and share some common characteristics. It is not scientific by any means. For example, male and female sparrows are identical to each other; finches fly in shallow arcs. This week I am covering another group of birds, the blackbirds. All black birds are basically black with males and females different from one another. The males are more colourful and brighter. This group, along with some others, exists only in the new world. Six blackbirds are common in our area; two appear infrequently.
The name “blackbird” seems to be a “no brainer”. What else would one call a small bird that is all black? In reality, the early European immigrants to the Americas were very homesick and wanted to recreate as much of the old world as possible in their new land. The manner in which they set up their farms, named their settlements and so on is a reflection of that. Furthermore, they often named plants, animals and birds after similar looking ones back home. The blackbird is a case in point. The English named the new world birds after a black bird back home, a thrush, closely related to the American Robin. Those of us over the age of forty probably still remember the nursery rhyme, “Sing a song of six pence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”, etc. The two dozen unfortunate birds are European thrushes, officially named, “Blackbirds”. For this reason we do not have any bird in the Americas called simply “Blackbird”. All American black birds have a double name, as it were. Likewise, the Ukrainians named our blackbirds after an unrelated bird they were familiar with back home, the starling – in Ukrainian, “Shpak”.
This week’s featured bird is the Brewer’s Blackbird. Several years ago, a few pairs moved into town and seem to have established themselves as permanent summer residents. There are at least two nesting pairs that I am aware of. If anybody comes close to their nest, the pair will harass the intruder mercilessly. They can be quite annoying, but being insect eaters, they are good to have in one’s yard.
The male Brewer’s is all black, that in good light, will reflect blue off its head and breast; the female is an inconspicuous brown. The male’s eyes are straw yellow; the female’s are black. The colour of the eyes distinguishes it from the nearly identical Rusty Blackbird that may show up occasionally during migration. The eyes of the female Rusty are straw yellow, not black. Another black bird, the Common Grackle, also nests in town. Although similar to the Brewer’s, with careful observation, it can be distinguished from it quite easily. I will go into more detail about the Grackle next week In the meantime, see if you can tell them apart.
Now, during nesting season, is the time to observe these birds. Remember, they are unique to the Americas!