The invasion of red-winged blackbirds

I was out in the yard enjoying a brief moment of sunshine during the April showers. My front yard has almost full southern exposure even though I have a lot of trees around me because I am in a little gully.

The trees and shrubs thoughtfully planted by previous residents are the types that never get too tall, and are always full of birds. I have wild climbing roses and hawthorns that keep fruit available right up until new growth starts.

Come spring and summer I have lilacs, apple blossoms, and honeysuckle.

In the fall, the apples ripen, and I have grapes growing twenty feet or more into a crabapple tree. The honeysuckle has berries, as does the burning bush, and there are tiny rosehips everywhere!

Needless to say, I had plenty of birds around here before I put out several feeders full of black oil sunflower seeds, songbird mix, raw suet, grape jelly, sugar water, and even dry dog food.

With the added buffet my yard is always atwitter!

Today, I was welcoming the purple finches back. I hadn’t seen them yet this year. Off in the woods, I could hear two or more male cardinals singing away in hopes of attracting a female. There has been a pair that visits here year round for the past three years or so. The doves were cooing, the sparrows were chirping, and the jays were scolding.

In the crabapple tree, a male red-winged blackbird was showing off for his mate. They too have been here for a couple years. The first time I saw the female, I thought she was a giant sparrow.

Her husband is a bit on the loud side, but he always lets her eat first, and he keeps the blue jays at bay so she is not disturbed.

All of a sudden, the sun blocked out a bit…I thought the robins had succeeded in singing for rain, but there came a flutter of wings and the call of thousands of birds singing “OAK-A-LEE!” all at once and the peaceful afternoon was shattered by a massive flock of male red-winged blackbirds.

As they flew over, the resident male gave out some warning calls, and his female who had been eating at one of the feeders flew into the crabapple tree in a tangle of grape vines and creeping rose canes.

Soon my lilacs were full of the black birds with red epaulets on their wings, they were calling back and forth, and they were flying through the air engaged in dogfights reminiscent of the great WWI pilots. I swear! Some of them had little machine guns, and a few unfortunate fellows exploded in a cloud of feathers and fire!

My wife was talking on the phone, and the caller asked her if she was being attacked by pterodactyls.

Our cat, who typically takes up residence under a low hanging branch with his wide open mouth full of sunflower seeds, and a crudely written “Free Burd Sead!!!” sign, ran for cover under the porch.

The goats hid in their barn

Some religious folks who had been going door to door distributing religious material abruptly turned their bicycles around and madly pedaled their way back toward Newport shouting about The End Of Times, and Armageddon.

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous for a minute or two, I had never seen so many red-wing blackbirds in one place. I wasn’t sure if I was about to experience something the likes of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, or Stephen King’s “The Dark Half”!

Then, all of a sudden they were gone! Save for the lone female that is. She was still sitting in the tangled vines in the crabapple. She had scarcely fluttered her wings.

The purple finches came back less than a minute later, followed by some nuthatches, and some chickadees.

As a pair of woodpeckers landed near the suet feeder, I heard a lone watery call of a male redwing blackbird, and out of nowhere, he landed in the crabapple a few feet from the female.

He flashed his wings, spread out his tail feathers, and sang “OAK-A-LEE!” before flying toward one of the feeders full of sunflower seeds.

As he landed, the female took flight, and landed squarely on the feeder, and began cracking open shells for the seed inside.

A grackle came in looking for something to eat, but the lone red wing blackbird shooed him away.

The grackle almost went to the sign offering “Free Burd Sead”, but Shoo-Shoo the cat got excited and swished his tail in anticipation, and the grackle decided to look for food someplace else.

Soon the sky was full of the usual bird sounds, and I was left wondering if what I had just seen had really happened when high up on the hill in the hayfield across the street thousands of birds took flight at once.

Although the distance muted the sound, the multitude of birds all sang “OAK-A-LEE!” over and over as they moved eastward, and there was no longer a doubt in my mind!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.