Off Season

Male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

This Red-winged Blackbird has the right place but the wrong season. He perches on a shrub and gives the “Here I am, let’s get together” call aimed at impressing the females, but if there’s any females present, they’re avoiding him. The season for blackbird partying and all that is the spring. In spring, the whole northwest corner of the park buzzes and whistles with blackbird hookups and the consequences. This is the middle of November. Nothing happening, brother. He probably realizes he’s wasting his time. He’s not doing the male blackbird thing with great enthusiasm. When he gives his “Come hither” call, he’s supposed to spread his wings and display his red epaulets to the fullest. It’s those fiery epaulets that keep rival males away and catch the eye of the fertile females. This bird barely shows the edges of his redwings. He wouldn’t get much action with that kind of feeble display in the spring.

However, a couple of days later I saw a second male redwing. The two of them tweeted rival calls from nearby bushes and even performed mock aerial combat, as if there were females to fight about. This second bird had more pizzazz:

Why are they even here? Are they gay? More than 100 bird species have displayed homosexual behavior, and apparently this is more common in species where heterosexual mating is promiscuous, as is the case with Red-winged Blackbirds. However, this species is not on the list where gay behavior has been documented. Source. So, these two feathered would-be lovers probably are not interested in one another. Well, if there’s no loving to be had, at least there’s feeding. Lots of seeds everywhere. They could do worse.

Ornithologists call birds that stray far from their flock’s home territory “vagrants.” I don’t like that term, but never mind. Are these blackbirds “vagrants”? They’re very much in their flock’s breeding territory, just not at the right time. They’re either months late, or months early. They’re anachronists, untimely, undue, unseasonable, malapropos. What will they do? Will they stay here until breeding season in about March? Or will they fly off somewhere else to try their luck?

Male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

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