Nature Notes: All these black birds | Local News


Blackbirds. Most of us see them on a daily basis, all black, often loud and gregarious. We know there are big and small, but that’s about as many as we pay attention to.

But there is a world of difference between these different species, and some interesting behaviors we can learn. There are many species from two very distinct groups of birds that make up the robin clans.

The largest of these birds belongs to the corvidae group, which includes jays, crows and crows. We normally only see one species of corvid along the immediate Gulf coast, the American crow, the tyrant of the bird world, some say. They’re big and loud, but they’re arguably one of the smartest birds around.

American crows inhabit many of our habitats, including our more suburban areas. They live near the coast in tree lines near coastal marshes, in lowland deciduous forests, open farmland, as well as our backyards. They rarely visit the seashore. They scavenge and steal, as well as forage for their food. Their diet is made up of a myriad of foods, including earthworms, insects and other small animals, seeds and fruits, but also garbage, carrion and chicks that they steal from nests. They are masters of survival.

American crows are very social birds and can form large flocks sometimes in the thousands. They are also very curious, somewhat mischievous and learn very quickly, able to solve problems. They aggressively defend what is theirs and are not afraid to hunt larger birds, including birds of prey such as hawks and owls.

Then there are the blackbirds which belong to the jaundice group. This is a fairly diverse group of birds, including blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, goglus, meadow larks, and even colorful orioles. The most notable jaundice blackbirds are the big-tailed blackbirds. They are not as big as crows but often mistaken for them. Males are a shiny dark black, often with blue and green reflections on their feathers. Females have more subdued blacks and browns.

Their cousins, the boat-tailed blackbirds, are very similar but sound a bit different and have dark eyes instead of yellow. Tales of boats are only found along the coast and the immediate swamps, not inland. The big tail can be found everywhere. The Bronzed Blackbird is its smaller cousin, which only resides here during the winter months, often in large groups. They look alike but are about two-thirds the size.

To complete this group are the smallest of this group. There is the red-winged blackbird with its bright red patch on its upper wing, the aptly named brown-headed cowbird with its dull brown head, and the less common tan cowbird with its hunchbacked appearance and bright red eye.

Both species of cowbirds are considered pests because they use the nests of other bird species to lay their eggs and often let these other birds raise their young.

This was not a problem in the past when they naturally followed stray buffalo herds, but as buffaloes have been replaced by stationary cows, cows no longer roam large areas and affect birds in the same area again. and even. This has led to a reduction in songbird populations, and since this was a man-made problem, in some areas cowhounds are being controlled manually to save rare or endangered species.

No matter what people think of this group of birds, the fact remains that they are smart, resourceful, and a lot of fun to watch. I love watching them through my office window here at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.

Martin Hagne is the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. GCBO is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving birds and their habitats along the entire Gulf Coast and beyond on their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

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