A merl of blackbirds

Some red-winged blackbirds, passing through on their spring migration, stopped for the evening in our neighborhood. They’ve roosted for the night in the top of an old sycamore along the creek; you can clearly hear them for blocks because the sycamore towers above all the houses and most of the other trees. I went for a walk after dinner and it took me a little bit to pinpoint their location, even though they are quite noisy: from that height, the sound bounces off houses in most unexpected ways. I knew they were red-wings because of the males’ distinctive call, described by most references as conk-a-ree or oak-a-lee. I’ve always thought of them as saying, “Look at me!” After all, they make those calls while flashing their brilliant red epaulets, seeking to attract females to their territory and defend that territory from other males. It’s a cheerful little song of three notes, cocky and ever-so-slightly desperate, and it never fails to make me smile.

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