Recently, I witnessed an amazing spectacle of bird movement and sound that could have been filmed by National Geographic! While driving by a cornfield, I saw a huge flock of birds flying across the skyline and landing in the cornfield by the road. This was no ordinary flock of a few dozen birds, this was literally thousands and thousands of grackles streaming across the sky and landing in the fields.
Grackles are black birds about the size of a robin, but with a longer tail, and often are confused with starlings, cowbirds or red-winged blackbirds. The birds were flying in to feed among the cut cornstalks and calling to one another in a constant mid-level range hum of clicks and croaks. This was not a deafening sensation, but very noticeable. Birds streamed in from the north in a wide band as far as the eye could see and the stream didn’t stop for at least four to five minutes.
Usually starlings and other kinds of blackbirds are found in these flocks, but I’ll confess I was so amazed by the sheer number of birds that I didn’t look to see if these birds were part of the gathering. (It wasn’t until I downloaded my camera images that I saw some identifiable red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds in the mix, but the vast majority of birds were grackles.) I did spot an additional flock of Canada geese in the field—but only because two snow geese (large white birds against the earthy colored field) were feeding with them!
I worked my camera “trigger” finger to capture images that gave some sense of the flock’s size and scope, but it seemed a futile exercise. Fortunately, as I waited, watched and listened, a large segment of birds rose into the air from the ground and the quantities of birds darkened the view finder—it was those shots that best illustrated this incredible scene. Have you seen some amazing flocks of birds? Tell us about them!
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an excellent website “All About Birds”. I found this link to images, text and the calls of Grackles as well as some of the other closely related black birds.