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Why Do Blackbirds Form Large Flocks
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2012 by eNature

The old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” is particularly true among blackbirds in winter.

Though many birds band together during winter, none are as notorious for their flocking behavior as blackbirds…red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds.

This group of a feather often flock together in the many thousands, sometimes the millions. One winter roost in the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia-North Carolina border held an estimated 15 million birds. Flocks in the thousands often roost in urban and suburban areas, where their numbers and their noise make them unpopular among the people living nearby.

Attempts by state and federal wildlife officials to discourage or destroy such flocks of wintering blackbirds have usually failed. One experiment, using a wetting agent sprayed on a huge flock of birds from an aircraft, left a much greater mess in the form of rotting carcasses.

Many wonder why birds in general and blackbirds in particular gather in flocks in winter. Though studies have been inconclusive, it’s generally believed that there is safety in numbers. With many more eyes and ears to search for food and watch for predators, the chance of an individual bird surviving winter is increased.

There are reports of hawks attacking flocks of flying birds time and again, but failing to capture even one when the prey closed ranks to form a mass that the hawk was unwilling or unable to penetrate without being injured.

Are you seeing flocks of blackbirds in your neck of the woods?

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Comments

We are seeing huge flocks of Grackles here in Lexington,Ky

Posted by Dakota on 1/3

What other birds fly in large flocks. I noticed that within the past two weeks a large number of birds, not black are flying around my area, I live in Little Egg Harbor, NJ.

Posted by Julia on 1/3

Such flocks are fascinating to watch, In farm areas they can be a devastating nuisance. Here in Colorado I have watched literally hundreds descend on a field of commercial sunflowers and proceed to pick parts of the field clean.

In the late 1940s or early 1950s, Missouri had a bounty on Red-wings and my mother’s cousin sent me some of the wings that he collected as part of his “bounty hunt.”

Flocks are a marvel to watch as they wheel, expand and collapse in genuine synchronization of movement

Posted by Richard Anderson on 1/3

I always assumed that birds flocking together were part of a migration, even if it were to a slightly to moderately different area to seek out winter food.
In Florida where we live, our county (Citrus) has relatively few birds who come to the feeders from late November until the middle of January. It puzzles everyone in this area, since many of us have feeders and encourage them to come to eat.
Any comments?

Posted by Carol on 1/3

Happens with Starlings in the Salt Lake area in Utah

Posted by Bill Evans on 1/3

watching their symetrical graceful dances in the sky is a joy. i used to live on the 35th floor next to the Skydome in Toronto, in the winter evenings as dusk was settleing in the wrens and chickadees would come cascading by my balcony hundreds of them heading to the lakshore area and under the gardiner expressway where they spend the long cold winter nights. truly remarkable creatures, their noises are music to my ears.

Posted by o1 on 1/3

I love the redwing blackbirds - they are abundant on our property on Bainbridge Island.  Lots of starlings as well, but they seem to leave in the midst of winter.  I do love watching them ride on the back of my horses…

Posted by dpkehres on 1/3

This year in NE Ohio, we seem to have a record number of starlings at our feeders. Red-winged blackbirds come only in the summer and for the past few years, have taken to eating from the feeders. Their call always signals that summer has arrived.

Posted by Janis on 1/3

I’ve read that the v-formation geese fly reduces energy expenditure by 70%. I’ve watched blackbirds migrate through my yard in New Hampshire for many years and flocks circle in tight formation over a turnpike at or near sunset every fall. Sure there is an increase in safety in a flock, but there may be near 100% decrease of energy expenditure for the birds in the center of the flocks. While running on roads at 5 miles per hour I have been passed by trucks and pulled forward by the draft until I was moving between 20 and 30 miles per hour. That is as close as I can come to imagining the thrill that blackbirds feel when they are wheeling around in a flock.

Posted by Chuck Rossier on 1/3

The last two days early morning and close to sunset my bird feeders are emptied in the matter of second by the swarm of blackbirds landing in my yard. It is a wonderful site since I have had little or no activity for the last month or so.

Warren
Tarpon springs, fl

Posted by warren cohn on 1/3

If you can run between 20 and 30 miles an hour, you should go into professional running.  The fastest human running speed on record is 27.79 mph by Usain Bolt during a 100 meter sprint.

Posted by John T. on 1/3

We have had these large flocks of mixed Redwing black birds, Cowbirds, Starlings and Grackles for several winters now.  They inhabit the trees in the area, and then descend on our yard (among others) covering the hillside and turning the ground black. Usually it is fascinating to watch them, although there are times when they definitely have a ‘Hitchcock-ian’ feel to their large gathering grin.  A few of the Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmouse and Sparrows try to visit the feeders while the BBlackbird swarms are present but usually end up waiting them out in trees not occupied by Blackbirds.  The biggest problem I have with them is trying to figure out how to count all of them for the annual February Backyard Bird Count if they show up while I am monitoring for a count!

Posted by Kathryn41 on 1/3

We’ve had large flocks landing in our tree tops.The noise and mess was too much. I have 22 ammo that has rat shot that I use for noise more than anything just to scare them away.In fact I haven’t hit one yet.

Posted by Jim B. on 1/3

It is just thrilling to watch the raucous crows come roost on the hills around our little city in southern tier New York. They fly-in like a succession of waves.  Sometimes the settled birds are spooked and all the birds fly up and out in unison only to alight once again after their relocation ballet is finished. They talk to each other hoarsely before falling asleep and then slip out individually and quietly come the dawn. It is very lovely when it is not in my backyard.
Karen
Corning, NY

Posted by Karen on 1/3

Small to large flocks of blackbirds are seen every day here in southern New Mexico in the winter.  They love the pecans in the trees and on the ground.  Their beaks pierce the nuts and destroy them.  Obviously as they eat into my profits, I make banging noises to scare them away.  They must have experiences with other farmers shooting at them as that is what the noise sounds like.  Sometimes they make so much noise talking to each other that they cannot hear my banging!  Drats!

Posted by Marlene on 1/3

I live in a wooded area on the outskirts of Fayetteville, AR and have been watching an enormous flock of starlings in the area. There could easily be over a thousand birds that roost together at night although they seem to have smaller flocks that are foraging in daylight hours. It’s.amazing to watch them flock to roost at dusk although I’m not sure my neighbors share my enthusiasm for the birds. Suspect they hope to avoid the overnight mess left in their yards by the roosting birds. I’ve heard more than one gun being.fired to frighten the birds away. While I can understand the peoples’ concern, I still feel that the creatures, too, have a place in the environment and are only attempting to survive what have become in this part of the country brutal winters.

Posted by Pat Gideon on 1/3

Actually we have large groups of blackbirds that seemingly live around the parking lot of Walmart. We often feed them on weekends and at least twice a year they seem to just disappear but they always return.  Often when they come back they seem to be molting.  The Walmart is next to one of the large city parks but I don’t know if they have any real interest in the park itself.

Posted by Peggy on 1/3

Here’s to you Marlene!  Used to be that many farmers planned on a certain amount of ‘give-back’ to nature; bless you.

Posted by Ray in Dallas on 1/3

Red wing blackbirds are ferocious fighters , driving larger birds away when they are nesting. Many pairs come back for years to the spot close to shopping center here in Pennington NJ,  where they find large grassy area.

Posted by Teresa Licholai on 1/3

RE: “Attempts by state and federal wildlife officials to discourage or destroy such flocks of wintering blackbirds have usually failed. One experiment, using a wetting agent sprayed on a huge flock of birds from an aircraft, left a much greater mess in the form of rotting carcasses”

When the bird flu destroys millions of us I guess it will be tit-for-tat.

What kind of insanity would make anyone want to destroy a blackbird?

Posted by Robert on 1/3

Because they want to…

Posted by John P. on 1/3

In my childhood I remember seeing huge flocks of them around Des Moines, Iowa.  The flocks I see today don’t seem nearly as big as I was use to seeing.  I also notice large flocks of crows as well.  I could understand why blackbirds would form large groups as a defence against predation, but why crows?

Posted by Rick on 1/3

The red-wing Blackbirds have arrived..and indeed en masse..We have one named Clack who injured himself two years ago and stayed (we feed well)..at least that winter when the rest went on.  His call is just enough different and always early.  The rest of the birds just stay out of their way until it’s time for them to move on.

Posted by claudia on 1/3

I saw a mixed flock of blackbirds descend upon feeders while at my brother’s house in northern VA last week, which was a first for me. Here in rural northern PA, we generally do not see red wings this time of year. However, I did see a big fat European starling which I shooed away from my feeder this morning, and, perhaps worse, I’ve had a flock of English house sparrows at one of my feeders for several days now. I’ve never seen the latter in a flock before and I’m not happy about their presence but unsure of what to do about it. All songbirds are NOT created equal. The non-native types (European Starlings and English House Sparrows) steal nesting sites from native species and in some cases will do much worse than that(like killing native species’ young). I therefore DO NOT enjoy feeding them and with this many hanging around, it is not unlikely that the house sparrows will try to steal my bluebird houses this spring. Back to blackbirds—they are an intelligent breed in general, and the flocks of starlings can look pretty, so they get a tad of respect from me, but I am sad to see the native blackbirds join up with them. I would love to know how to help one but not the other. FYI, “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act” gives you the right to disturb the nests of starlings and house sparrows, but not of any native songbird. If you don’t know one blackbird or sparrow from another, educate yourself before you try to move a nest next spring.

Posted by Sue on 1/3

We have a creek along side of our lake house in N.PA. The Common Grackles are a riot to watch.They come in great numbers, they are very loud and splash away in the creek.Our daughters home is a half hour away in Cherry Valley.They have had a record number of Crows this winter.

Posted by peg pugh on 1/3

I noticed a large group of starlings on top of the doctor’s office at a mall today, chittering, warbling, whistling, and chatting (presumably) with some amazing vocalizations, many of them approaching human sounds. Very cold day here in southern Wisconsin, but they didn’t seem to be vying for shelter from the wind. Seemed to be a lot of intelligence there though.

Posted by Timbo on 1/3

Here in New Mexico we have lots of longtail(? boat tail) grackles, starlings & crows that come in winter to roost in a 40+ ft. cedar tree, esp. at night.  They come down to bathe & drink at the small inground fish pond as soon as I break a hole in the ice for them to get to the water & they carry on such loud conversations up in the cedar branches in winter when the other trees are bare of leaves.  The grackles esp. have the biggest vocabulary and have no fear of our four dogs (German Shepherd, Min-Pins) for some reason… maybe because those birds are so big & bold the dogs are afraid of them?!! They get the dry dog food pieces, take it to the pond or birdbath & dunk it up & down in the water like a donut til it is soft enough to swallow themselves or give to a waiting baby with open beak.  If still too hard, the mom dunks it again & again til it is soft! They strut around on the ground and confront each other with head held back & long black tail held up!It seems one kind will dominate for a few years & then one of the others will come in & do so.  This year the crows have made a comeback.

Posted by marilyn on 1/3

I agree with Robert..What kind of insanity would cause people to want to destroy a flock of Blackbirds? I imagine its greedy farmers who no longer want to share the world with Gods other creatures, oblivious people who are annoyed by the sound of the flock as they are too concerned about their selfish wants to have any empathy for anything or anyone else. Its a shame.

Posted by Jamie on 1/3

Lots of starlings in Oregon’s Willamette Valley this year, the first time I’ve seen them in the winter.

Posted by Linda B Lafond on 1/3

Living on a lake in NW Washington occasionally we get enough snow in the lowlands to hang heavy in tree branches for a few weeks. This covers the seeds left hanging in trees, like Alder, that the birds rely on for winter food. An interesting group behavior I’ve seen from house sparrows is a large group, 200+ will all fly in at once and land in the top of a large tree. They then cascade down the outer limbs, the top most birds continually flying out and dropping to the bottom of the flapping in place flock, slowly working their way down the tree. Thus knocking the snow out of the limbs and making the seeds accessable. They go from one tree to the next. Beautiful to watch, this perfectly corriagraphed ballet of falling snow and cascading birds. Sometimes I wonder who is the wiser.

Posted by Kelly on 1/3

The Common Mynahs in Bengal (West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh) behave very much like North American blackbirds, but without the migration.  At sunset they flock together into a single tree or set of adjacent trees for (protective?) mass roosting. The chatter is deafining.  If anything disturbs them, hundreds fly up, wheel around, and land again, with repeated loud chattering.

Posted by Ralph Nicholas on 1/3

In winter in Buffalo New York we have several hundred black crows that roost in our trees at night.  The first time I noticed them, I was walking to my car and heard some strange sound, kind of like rain but bigger.  A soft poosh, poosh.  When I looked up the leafless maple trees were a mass of black.  The crows were silent except for their droppings!  It was kind of eerie at first, but then I acquired a new pass time, watching and listening to the large black birds.  They disappear at certain times of the year as well.  I am not in Buffalo this year so I kind of miss them.

Posted by grace delano on 1/3

Here in Grand Isle County, Vermont my family and I have always used the flocking of European Starlings as a harbinger of winter.
It seems that the moment the Starlings flock the migratory birds are gone and the cold weather is just down the road.

Posted by Johnny D on 1/4

How ironic that this story appeared in the news letter. Yesterday afternoon my husband and I were driving home and noticed hundreds of blackbirds and dozens of crows. we both could not recall such a gathering in our area. We live in Danbury, CT and while not exactly rural, there were great expanses of woods which have now been destroyed by condos.It was a sight to see!

Posted by Debi Ann on 1/4

I live near Poughkeepsie new York.  Several years ago hundreds of blackbirds started every evening in the winter and early spring to gather on one large section of trees near the hudson river.  It is fascinating to watch them fly at dusk in large groups to gather on the trees.  We never knew why they did this but reading your article has explained this behavior

Posted by Terry johnson on 1/4

In 1996-1997 a flock of grackles “occupied” DFW airport. In part due to a farmer who planted a field of grain outside the airport then failed to harvest it. You could see them in the daytime and they would literally cover the grass. At night they roosted in the numerous live oaks that are planted at the airport. The trees would look black and you could hear them for blocks. That season there were so many bird strikes (when a bird hits an airplane or vice-versa) that we had to budget for the expense. The airline that I worked for estimated that there was at least one bird strike a day. The next year they were gone.

Posted by Penny Hammack on 1/4

Good question, Rick:  Why crows?  I suppose even the crows have predators like hawks, owls, and mammals.  Since birds seem to roost together in greater numbers the colder it gets, could this behavior have anything to do with spreading their body heat—just as rooms heat up when there are a lot of people in them or are birds just to small to generate much body heat?

Posted by Karen on 1/4

I have noticed these flocks in NE Ohio on or around November 22 each year as they gather to migrate.  The home I lived in for 8 years was next to a large field and wooded area, but they thought nothing of gathering in my yard before their long flight South.

Posted by Linda Brandt on 1/4

The safety in numbers theory has failed the blackbirds in Arkansas.  Good Morning Arkansas just announced that PETA is offering a reward for information leading to the thugs behind the killing of over 200 Red-Winged Blackbirds, who were disturbed from their roost on New Years’ Eve and killed by fireworks here in Arkansas.  It is an embarrassment that Arkansas, The Natural State, cannot prevent senseless cruelty to these blackbirds.

Posted by Niki Fakouri on 1/4

Amazing how many folks want to comment on this phenomenon! I enjoyed reading the comment by Sue about the Migratory Bird Act. Non-native species of anything, whether it be birds, animals or plants can be very destructive and upset the order of nature. You are wise my friend, as you love and respect nature and its delicate balance.

Posted by Carol on 1/4

We see flocks of starlings here in Wisconsin, several times a year, and enjoy watching them move from a tree to the ground, back up to another tree and over & over again, until they fly away. Always enjoy watching them each time we are lucky enough to see them.

Posted by Linda on 1/4

In central Mexico I have seen this behavior this year in black birds whose males seem to have a yellow chest (and maybe heads)... lots and lots of them together. I am happy to see they survive the big cities, allthough many other species donĀ“t.

Posted by An on 1/4

Here in Shannon, GA, I live in a migratory path.  The first year I was here, there were hundreds and hundreds of blackbirds.  There were so many that I could feel the wind from their wings when I stood out in the yard, and they would fly en masse from the trees in neighboring yards.  Last year, there was snow on the ground when they came through, so I spread seed directly onto the snow cover.  I managed to get a few really good shots of them on the snow, scarfing up the seed.  They make quite a contrast against the white blanket.  I have noticed though that there are less red-wings amongst them; though, there are still some.  I’m not sure why that is.  I do know that the migration has changed in the last several years and comes a bit later, now, mid-January into February.  I sense it might have to do with the climate changes that are occurring.  I really enjoyed reading all the comments.  It’s always good to see and hear about others that love and enjoy the feathereds.

Posted by Kimberly on 1/4

Here in Southern Cal, i dont see the huge flocks of the blackbirds, I only see flocks of about 5- 10, although I believe central Cal where all the food is grown there is a bigger problem,, The starlings come in to eat my dogs dry food, one goes in and the rest sit around the fences and watch, then they switch off.
  Remember Mother nature will only allow enough creatures for the food supply, if the food is abundant so are the birds. Thats my theory of why there are so many in the midwest.

Posted by Steve from Hemet ca on 1/4

We see flocks of red-winged blackbirds at this time of year in the central part of Maryland but they disappear during summer, even though we see many of them at Assateague. Are they migratory?

Posted by Bob on 1/4

Here in Kansas City MO they (crows) seem to come in as the temps drop into the low 30s and 20s. They hang out in leafless trees giving those trees the look of a black leaved spring. Of course the bird droppings are a mess and a health hazard as well. Had to take the car to be washed two days in a row! When I go out in the morning to collect the daily paper I slap it against my hand and this incites a surge into flight of the nearest group. But the noise goes on and the birds return quite quickly to roost and to poop!

Posted by KartaPurkh Khalsa on 1/4

Lots of Grackles in Austin!

Posted by Edie on 1/4

I always thought that wherever you see Blackbirds you will not see Hawks,  I thought Blackbirds were the Hawks natural enemy, and some little bird I don’t know right now always chase the Blackbirds.

Posted by Edmond in Merrimack, NH on 1/4

Good one John P. LOL

Posted by poyye on 1/4

Here in Freedom, NY, I’ve seen these murmurations for years. I love watchting that dance!

Posted by Jo Pfetsch on 1/4

For anyone who wants to discourage the birds you can mount an imitation owl near the site and they will stay away. you can find an imitation owl at most sporting goods stores .

Posted by Ken Burtch on 1/4

Living in upstate NY right below Lake Ontario we get the fall migrations of geese that feed on the leftover waste in fields, and of sea gulls whose flocks sometimes follow tractors in the spring when they are plowing and, of course, the murmurations as mentioned above in the summer.  I like when they make their racket and listen closely for the geese to announce the change of seasons and the blackbirds which sound like, also mentioned above, the Hitchcock movie.
HOWEVER:  They have never stayed long enough to make a mess in my yard (except for the geese) nor do they eat any crops that I have worked hard for and that are my sole source of support because I do not farm.  If they did, I would try to protect myself and my fields.
There are bound to be problems between nature and humans.  If hunting were not allowed we would be like Australia with their rabbits and deer would be munching on our flowers and if a bear came after me because I inadvertenly stepped between it and its cubs I suppose I could wave an owl or stick my tongue out at it.
I love animals much more than people but like them, I will protect what is mine.

Posted by Poyye on 1/4

I work in downtown San Antonio, Texas. We have a Riverwalk running thru downtown with huge cypress and oak trees. The grackles and cowbirds spend their winters here, and blanket all of downtown. The city government hates it. They’re afraid they will scare away tourists. They have tried all the sounds they can think of to scare them away, and nothing works. I love walking to the parking garage every day and having it sound like I live in the forest! Yes they are loud, and yes they are messy, but they have been here probably from before the Alamo was, it’s their home too. And, hey, keeping the sidewalks clean keeps a few more people employed!

Out in the country where I live, we only see occasional flocks of 20-30 grackles, but we see the red-wings pass thru in huge flocks twice a year. They descend on the cow ranges in droves. The last few years we’ve had drought, so they haven’t stayed more than a day or two lately. They used to be around for about a week.

A few years back, we went camping at a state park north of us, the week after spring break. We didn’t even think about the red-wings, we just wanted to hike around the bluebonnets and Texas wildflowers. The first morning, we discovered that (what seemed like) 20,000 red winged blackbirds make a great alarm clock at 6am that I guarantee you will not sleep thru!! They woke us up all four mornings we were there.

Posted by Cheryl on 1/4

Here on Tybee Island, GA, there have been hundreds of starlings eating the acorns in the oaks trees for the last week.

Posted by Ben on 1/4

Blackbirds are truly lovely to see when they band together, and perhaps there is much more to this behavior than meets the eye. While the birds may be messy in their consumption of riches from the trees, perhaps we can use this to our benefit.(I’m not suggesting free access to all crops, this could result in numbers reaching pest portions.) Leaving a certain portion of crops for the birds,provided protections are in place for non-sacrifice crops can’t hurt,in fact,it could probably help. Some may see bird poop as a mess, others may see it as a free source of fertilizer resulting in increased yields. If harvest is possible before bird arrival, leaving a bit on trees could have great benefits to the orchard owner and perhaps nearby neighbors who may have still growing crops that are not visited.

Posted by Mel on 1/4

We have noticed an increasingly large flock of red-winged blackbirds in just the past two weeks. They gather under our yard bird feeder - a few actually eat from the feeder - and show up each morning about 8 a.m.

Posted by Karen on 1/4

It would seem logical that the larger the MASS of the flock the less likely to be effected by strong winds.  The sheer density of thenformation and arrangement pattern could probably sheer cut through most gusts.  Also a dispersal mechanism if the flock does get separated there is enoughof a population to b ea successfull breeding population.

Posted by Janet on 1/4

Also there is probably something similar to the geese where part of the flock does more work and others fall behind to rest.  Since these birds are small they may tire faster and therefore a large percentage of them may actually be at rest during the migration, and or the larger the flock the more easily for stragllers to spot.

Posted by Janet on 1/4

You want to see Starlings, visit Powell, Wyoming.  About two weeks ago we had a “ball” of Starlings settle out east of us, and also in our back yard.  I estimated that there was at least 50,000 in the flock.  I’ve seen a similar flock the last two days flying about a mile or so east of us.  The lead birds will settle down and eat a little.  But when most of the birds have passed over, they fly and just keep rotating across the prairie, eating as they go.

Posted by John Delinger on 1/4

I have seen a few black birds here in Woodinville, WA but not in flocks.

Posted by Nathan on 1/4

Flocks of starlings have been around this week, gathering mainly in the neighbor’s yard. They are not bothering my feeders so far this year. They certainly are a spectacle to watch!

Posted by Julie Glick on 1/4

We have them here along the Naugatuck River in Connecticut. They gather each evening. Each year they pick an area and go to that same area. At least they will return to the same area for extended periods. I could not tell exactly want family. I believe crows, in the thousands. They are not Red Wind Black Birds. They have my curiosity seeing them come from all direction while driving on a major highway. I have been filming any and all wildlife in and along this river that once caught fire. A truly American Comeback story though I have not figure out how to study and film these creatures since they are in extreme low light and darkness not mention they are often in tough areas to get to.

Posted by kevin zak on 1/4

I think the starling should be the North Carolina state boid.

Posted by John P. on 1/4

There was thousands of blackbirds they say died from the noise of fire works in Byrant , AR. on new years eve. It was on the news.

Posted by Vee W on 1/ 5/ 2012

Posted by Vee W on 1/5

The black birds are amoung my favorites at the feeder.Although there are a lot of them, they don’t seem to mind sharing space with other birds. They even tolerate the Doves! They gather in a bamboo stand and converse for hours. They make great company! : )

Posted by carol kennedy on 1/5

I see these flocks every year.  Living next to a large wooded area with an adjacent wetland I find these flocks moving thru the woods rising and landing continously.  The floor of the woods thick with the falls leaves are “fluffed” by these flocks as they forage for food.  I believe one of the reasons for large flocks is to facillitate this forageing, they literally leave no leaf unturned greatly aiding in their search for food.  Also, the great numbers are an affective defense as they overwhelm the area.

Posted by marshall ray on 1/5

It has been a mild winter so far for us in southern Vermont, and it seems like there have been more starlings than usual at my feeder.

Posted by Jen on 1/5

I’ve seen flocks of vultures in my area.  I don’t know that they officially qualify in the black bird category, but they are big and black and hang out together. I personally love them.  They are magnificent.

Posted by Carol on 1/5

Flocks of vultures are usually a sign of something dead or something about to expire. If they seem to be following you, I would take it as a bad omen.

Posted by John P. on 1/5

Starlings (black birds/no red markings) enjoy nesting in our campground by the Pacific Northwest coast in California (80 miles south of Oregon).
A bird lover, I watch and listen. My windows look out onto a pond where shore birds stop for nice taste of fish. My enthusiasm is year round, and I thank The Almighty One for our birds. What would we do without them?
Now I am fond of the dignified, intelligent, adaptive Ravens and have learned more about them. 
Starlings, on the other hand are, in my opinion, an unwelcome intrusion. In early Spring they descend upon us so to nest in this lush forested area. The noise begins! Females peck on roof tops, windows and reflective sidings. We wake to cackles at 6am, not to mention droppings on all things sacred; my new car.
Our beloved songbirds and hummingbirds do disappear, sad to say, while the Starlings are around. We know why. Nature knows. This annoying bird displaces a Springtime expectation: the lovely sounds of birds when the earth is blooming again. 
Just before Summer, the Starlings go on their way. Where? San Francisco? What a relief! The peaceful songs and tweets of little birds returns.
It is truly heartening to read how so many people people admire the varieties of small black birds.
Count me out, okay.

Posted by Lydia B. on 1/5

Try imagining flocks of blackbirds a couple miles or more long, streaming over head. Those size of flocks are very common here in central Kansas, especially over Cheyenne Bottoms, which is a Wetlands of International Importance. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million or more, birds streaming by at sun up and sun down. When they roost for the night in the reeds, the noise is amazing. Their flight displays are impressive to watch. To me, the species roosting in the reeds seem to be mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles, with a few other species thrown in of course.

Posted by Rob on 1/5

We have had huge flocks of redwings here on the coast on James Island, SC for quite a few weeks.  They are thinning out now however.  Christmas day was one day I’ll remember.. between the redwing flocks and a very large flock of robins working on my holly tree berries, it sounded like a huge symphony of bird calls all day long.  It was so impressive, in fact, I took a video just so I could remember the sound!

Posted by Barbara on 1/6

My question is this:  in the article they got the informationthat the gov sprayed something from the air.  First where is this information from?  Second there are a lot of permitts required for this so it must have some application that the article does not point out… That is if this is true.  Statements like that need a ligitament source, not hearsay.

Posted by Angel on 1/6

When we first moved to eastern N.C., I was mortified to learn that the earlier residents used to eat robins. Sure enough, recipes for robin is in old cookbooks (the drumsticks left a lot to be desired). The reason for this is: years ago the fishermen would have a “red tide” killing millions of fish and they would have to resort to other means. Since robins were abundant, they were fair game. Now, robins are protected as a song bird and killing them is a $40 per bird fine. Expensive meal, huh?

Posted by John P. on 1/6

To Angel,
Not sure if this was the same compound, but I found this link yesterday:
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2011/0120/Bye-Bye-Blackbird-USDA-acknowledges-a-hand-in-one-mass-bird-death

Posted by Anja on 1/6

Thanks for the story but that doesnt sound like it is sprayed by an aircraft.  It also looks like they had the permits I mentioned.

Posted by Angel on 1/6

I am getting huge flocks of starlings in my area.  I have a hard time keeping the feeders filled because of these invasive birds.  I set up a blind on my back porch so I can shoot them with my pellet gun when they come around.  I let them just lay on the ground so their cousins will see what happens to starlings in my yard.  I did discover that if you set up any feeders so that the birds have to come from underneath to feed the starlings will not eat from that feeder.  Unfortunately neither will the Cardinals.

Posted by Bob on 1/6

For all my life in the deep south it has been a wonder to children and adults to witness the tens of thousands and I think millions of black birds flying in what seems a never ending stream flock about 100 birds wide and reaching from horizon to horizon, streaming on for hours.

From what I have read I think most of these birds are starlings brought here by Europeans for hunting purposes.

They seem to like nesting in house eve vents and even in pipe vents on roofs.  Put out a feeder and when they are in town the rest of the birds can forget getting to the food.

As a boy one could get a job standing in a newly planted farm field with a shotgun to blast away trying to keep them from eating the seed.  Compressed air canons replaced the shotgun.  I’ve read about attempts to kill them in mass with not much success and our state’s hunting laws allow them to be shot anytime with no bag limit.

So it is with disdain I look up the starling but I don’t shoot them anymore as I once did with a pellet gun.  I guess getting older teaches one to roll with the flow not fight it. 

That’s for another subject, the introduced species of plants and animals to the southeast and its being sub tropical they proliferate rapidly finding this environment predator free compared to their original home.  Like the Mediterranean gecko.  There are now more of them than our indigenous green lizard.

Posted by Jb on 1/6

I agree it is heartening to see how many people are commenting here.  Near my house in Arlington, MA, there is a roost harboring many hundreds of starlings and robins.  The starlings arrive each evening in tightly formed groups of several dozen and swirl around the area in groups of several hundred for up to half an hour before plunging down into the reeds for bed-time.  The robins fly in looser groups, arriving in 2s and 5s and perching high in the trees to watch a bit before choosing their location for the night.  As the sun sets, quite often a lone great blue heron flies out of the swampy area where they are all assembling.  A hopeful Cooper’s hawk often watches and sometimes pursues some of the birds for a late afternoon meal.  The whir of the starlings’ wings as they pass over is something to hear.  Also they chatter nonstop while perched high in the trees, and when they all take off together there is a sudden stop to the chatter.  The numbers have dwindled due to additional construction nearby.  We humans are leaving less and less room for earth’s other creatures.

Posted by JDFoot on 1/7

I’m out and about in midtown Toronto.  I look up our famous Yonge St. which is our homespun Greenwich meanline running north-south effectively bisecting the city east-west. 

I look north and upward and what do I see?  I see a flock of blue herons flying a circular flight path.  They were engaged in some ancient ritual I suspect.  Must have been 50 of them two abreast flying in a tight, stable and consistent; circular path. 

This at an altitude of perhaps 1500 to 1700 ft.  The diameter was perhaps 100 ft or so.  Nice and flat.  Rather sanguine to view.  I was pleased with my powers of observation - so much so I pointed it out to a nearby police officer - “Wow! That’s weird!” he said.

The normally solitary birds somehow knew to gather for the annual reunion slash council meeting.  Go figure! 

They were some distance from me @ 2km but I recall them dispersing - all their separate ways.  They flew (orbited) in a counter-clockwise direction as viewed from above.  Between 40 and 50 members (council members) took part in this exercise. I hope they voted to let us stay!  : )

Posted by Mitch Mitchell in Toronto on 1/10

I get large flocks of grackles (I want to say summer but it could be earlier); they stamp their way across my front yard looking for grubs and anything else they can pull up out of the lawn. (Now that I mention grubs, the time could be Sep)

My backyard deck faces a rivers’ edge piece of marsh which is home (in the Sp,Su,Fa) to an infinite number of redwings. I’ve been in this home for 13 years, and only last year - for the first time - did my husband and I witness the adults teaching the fledglings to navigate the tall marsh grass. They’d fly up in a flock of a hundred or so, circle the neighborhood, start their descent and try to land gently, but were crash-landing onto the tall stems! We watched for almost 40 minutes, when the adults decided it was bedtime. Then, within minutes, there was no sound out there but for the gnats that survived another day.

No one else in my neighborhood has my view: I cannot even describe how privileged we feel to be able to watch a tiny part of nature occur as it must have been happening for the past 1000 years or so…in my little marsh! Amazing.

Nice to see all the comments and learn where the birds are at any moment in time.

Posted by JackieO on 1/14

Starlings are mimic thrushes, related to mockers and catbirds.  I learned this when I lived in Alameda, CA, 20 years ago.  While recovering from surgery, I had to take a walk every day, and sometimes I’d hear a wolf whistle—so annoying—but there was no one around at all.  Except starlings.  They must have learned it from the sailors stationed in Alameda at the time.

Fifteen years ago, I lived in Denton, TX, and in the winter, a large flock of mixed black birds roosted in the brush tangle behind my house.  In the early evenings, I’d stand in my garage and watch them arrive (out of the way of any droppings!). There were so many that one could hear their wings in flight.  There was also an egret roost in town.

Posted by Holly on 1/27

This winter the starlings (not favorites of mine!) have left now that the grackles & crows have come.  Those grackles are SO funny:  they strut around with their heads held high & back,posturing to other males that come close.  They go down to the fish pond & try to peck/ break through the ice to get a drink or find enough open water to take a bath… water splashed all over.  In summer the females (& sometimes the males) take a piece of dry dog food to the birdbath & dunk it up in down in the water (like a donut in a cup of coffee!) until it is soft enought to swallow;  if a young one is there to be fed, the parent dunks the food, tests it & if still too hard will dunk it again while the youngster is sitting there with beak wide open & wings fluttering waiting for a meal. One even tried to hang on the black thistle sock feeder but couldn’t make it work ... kept tipping the sock! Their vocabulary is crazy… they congregate in the tall red cedar tree in the yard & jabber like crazy in so many different sounds.  Yes, I have heard the grackles will raid other birds nests, eat the eggs & even cannibalize the babies but they sure are so funny to watch & beautiful!  They show little fear of my dogs or me when I am in the yard, unlike the crows that are quite wary & fly off at the least sound. Then there are the perennial mourning doves.. not the ‘brightest’ of birds on an IQ scale (!) but pretty & friendly.  Curved bill Thrashers love my tall cactus & have nests in them & from just one I saw two years ago I now have a dozen or more on the ground among the cactus & other shrubs all year…. & rarely one of our crazy roadrunners that will perch on our roof & pose while I get my camera & take his picture! 
And all this is in the middle of Albuquerque in old established neighborhoods ... we are so lucky!

Posted by marilyn on 1/27

For two days this week, a friend and I had the privilege of watching an estimated million plus tree swallows converging just before sunset at Lost River Reserve, Ruskin, FL. I’ve never seen that many birds in one place before.  We watched as more and more arrived from every direction. I estimated that they covered an area about a quarter mile long.  As the sun faded from sight, they flew higher and higher and then formed swarms of hundreds of birds, resembling a tornado, twisting and turning in the sky and then descending into the trees on the other side of the pond from where we were parked.  One by one, the swarms descended into the trees until there were no more to be seen, all roosted for the night as the light faded away. Behind us, on the telephone wires, were hundreds of grackles, cackling away, and they also flew over to the trees to roost for the night, still cackling away.  It was a sight that I’ll never forget.

Posted by Jo on 1/27

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Posted by Whodeviotte on 2/3

I’d like to know how and why a post from Whodeviotte on 2/3 to sell beaded necklaces appeared in this discussion about birds of a feather flocking together.

Posted by Jo on 2/3

As a herpetologist, another reason not to kill rat snakes is that they control bird populations. They have the ability to climb into trees and either eat the babies or the eggs (whichever came first). This might sound morbid but we have more than our share of birds, especially starlings.

Posted by John P. on 2/3

There were just ten thousand, at least, blackbirds in my 50ft pine trees in East Texas!! There were so many when they flew over me they blocked out the sun!! Was really cool!!!! They stayed fr about an hour!! My trees were almost black there were so many!!

Posted by Donna on 2/4

Take your Mulberry’s and put them where the sun don’t shine!

Posted by marshall on 2/19

I live ten miles outside of columbia missouri in the country and for weeks now I have seen thousands of these black birds flying around as well as landing in the trees outside of my house and yes the noise is incredible, when my son came out of the house to catch the bus he “spooked” them and the noise stopped immediately! These birds have been real interesting to watch!!

Posted by Betty Rupard on 2/26
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