Blackbirds Breeding

The nest is suspended about four feet off the ground, supported by last year’s and this year’s fennel trunks
Each egg is marked with a unique design in black.

With my eyes fixed at the top of the fennel, taking burst pictures of birds taking off, I completely missed this nest.  A group of other park visitors, some of them speaking Chinese, spotted it immediately and called it to my attention.  This nest is built into the fennel, relying on last year’s dried stalks.  It lies about five feet off the paved path on the north side of the park.  When built, it probably had four feet of fresh new fennel as a cushion between it and the path.  But park management’s mowing machine cleared out most of that, and the nest now lies at the very edge of the cut area, with only inches of vegetation to screen it.  Four blue speckled eggs lay in the nest, apparently in good shape.  A couple of Red-winged Blackbird females hovered and fretted nearby while human visitors, including myself, poked lenses into their woven domicile.  My imaging done, I retreated to a safe distance.  Not clear whether the Blackbird mom will risk sitting on the eggs so near to the edge of the birds’ sheltering fennel forest.  For the suburban gardener, fennel may be a plague and a pest, but for these birds, it’s home.

Note from the pictures that the Blackbird mother somehow paints each egg in her uterus with a unique design in black ink.  The designs can be quite artistic to human eyes.  Is this an evolutionary device to help the parents identify their own eggs and spot freeloader eggs deposited by parasite breeders like cowbirds and cuckoos?

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