The colorful Red-winged Blackbirds are gone, but another blackbird species remains. Proof is this female Brewer’s Blackbird, perched on a dry fennel stalk above the blackberry patch at the corner of Marina Boulevard and the Virginia Street extension.
The male Brewer’s are pitch black with iridescent colors in bright sun, and have contrasting pale yellow eyes. I photographed one a few years ago taking a bath in a dog’s water bowl. I’d not seen a female up close before and had to go to the web to be sure of what I saw. As with most other species, the female wears a drab dress lacking contrast or chromatic rainbows, and her eye color blends in instead of popping out. How did homo sapiens get that all backward?
The Cornell bird lab website has these “cool facts” about Brewer’s Blackbirds:
- Brewer’s Blackbirds are social birds that nest in colonies of up to 100 birds. The first females to arrive choose a nest site to suit them, and later arrivals follow suit. Eggs are extremely variable in color and pattern. Some studies suggest the variability helps the eggs match the background pattern of the nest, helping to camouflage them.
- Most birds fly south for the winter, but a small number of Brewer’s Blackbirds fly west – leaving the frigid Canadian prairies for the milder coastal regions of British Columbia and Washington.
- Brewer’s Blackbirds cope well with humans and the development we bring. In the last century, they spread eastward from western Minnesota, taking advantage of agricultural fields, farmhouses, and towns. Where they overlap with the Common Grackle, the grackles take the streets and suburbs, leaving the Brewer’s Blackbirds to the fields and grasslands.
- Brewer’s Blackbirds are sometimes shot, trapped, or poisoned around agricultural fields in an attempt to protect crops. Although they do eat grains, this species’ appetite for insects makes it more of a farmer’s friend than a pest. Brewer’s Blackbirds are quick to notice new food sources and have been credited with helping to curb outbreaks of insect pests including weevils, cutworms, termites, grasshoppers, and tent caterpillars, among others.
- The oldest known Brewer’s Blackbird was a male, and over 12 years, 6 months when it was found in California.
Here’s a short video showing this bird on its perch: