Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Unidentified Blackbird

I mentioned in my last post that there is a blackbird of some kind hanging out in the yard. It's still here, and I've had some better looks, so am almost ready to hazard a guess. Part of the difficulty is that it is not in good shape--so its behaviour is that of the sickly bird in general. It can't fly very far or fast. It is very nervous, and flies into a big spruce near the feeders whenever it sees or hears me. It also spends a lot of time there, on the ground or in the lower branches. Part (or all) of its problem is that its missing some tail feathers--inappropriate moult due to illness? or perhaps as a result of a run-in with a predator? The missing tail feathers are also part of my problem.

I don't think this is a common grackle, not big enough, wrong tail, but the actual shape of the tail is obscured by the missing feathers. I know that it is not a red-winged blackbird, a brown-headed cowbird, or a European starling, but these, along with the common grackle are all the blackbirds I know. There are two others that might turn up around here: the rusty blackbird and the Brewer's blackbird.

According to Sibley's maps, a Brewer's is a rarity in these parts, and the rusty blackbird is only a migrant here. On the other hand, a rusty blackbird has a very distinctive, non-black non-breeding plumage, and this bird is definitely black.

The bird is black, with an iridescent blue head, and yellow irises. At this time of the year, then, it is likely either a common grackle (and my intuition is off), or the more rare Brewer's blackbird.

This particular bird, I should note, is the only blackbird here now. Although the maps show the common grackle as a year-round resident not far south of here, it certainly hasn't been one in Thomasburg. The red-winged blackbirds were the last to go, just a week or so ago, and are the first to arrive back in the spring. European starlings hang around in urban areas all year, but we don't generally see them here in the winter.


John B. said...

How about the bill? The Brewer's/Rusty blackbirds have a shorter, more conical bill than grackles - more like the red-winged blackbirds, so that difference should help.

Anonymous said...

John beat me to it, I was going to ask the same thing.

Pamela Martin said...

Thanks John and Nuthatch--This helps a lot. I'll keep hoping to see the bird again (that it's still alive), but I am now almost certain that it was a Brewer's. Without thinking about the bill specifically, I remember thinking its face was most un-grackle like. When I picture it to myself, it does look more like the bill of a red-winged blackbird.