Four-and-twenty (thousand) blackbirds

The fruit from ONE blossom cluster

Our trees are MUCH fuller than this one

The streets of our subdivision are lined with ornamental pear trees. In spring, each tree is so completely covered with white blossoms that it resembles a giant wad of cotton candy on a stick. These blossoms aren’t sterile, however; the fruit they produce is very small – about the size of a marble – but there are a LOT of them, hundreds (if not thousands) on each tree. Nearly all of the neighborhood streets in our quadrant of the city are lined with ornamental pear trees, hundreds (if not thousands) of them. That is a heck of a lot of fruit, even if they are small.

Monstrous murmurations of starlings (isn’t that a great collective noun?) gather on our side of town during the fall migration, drawn, I am convinced, by the bounty of fruit available to them here. They fill the sky from horizon to horizon at dusk as they begin to settle in for the night, wheeling and swirling like a great host of large, black leaves caught in a whirlwind. It’s dazzling to watch and quite mesmerizing. The din is very impressive, too, though not quite deafening. Starlings are sophisticated vocalizers (mynas are a species of starling) and have been known to include sounds such as human speech patterns and car alarms in their repertoire. The cacophony of thousands (if not millions) of them whistling, tweeting, chirping, squawking, and trilling at once is enough to leave one speechless with amazement.

I bring all this up because a smaller sub-murmuration (consisting merely of a few thousand birds) has landed in my neighborhood this morning. The pear trees, most of which still have their leaves, are a-quiver with the dark, fluttering forms of feeding birds. The branches of the shade trees, most of which have lost their leaves, hold rank upon rank of black silhouettes, preening and visiting with neighbors. All of them seem to be chattering, and it was the commotion of their conversations that first alerted me to their presence.

(photo by John Tittle)

I’m glad they’re here; I find them immensely cheerful and entertaining. I do confess, however, to having some Alfred Hitchcock flashbacks. I’ll probably stay inside until they move on to the next neighborhood, just to be on the safe side.

(Many thanks to John Tittle, of Red Wing Nature Notes, who so graciously gave permission for the use of his photo.)

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4 responses to “Four-and-twenty (thousand) blackbirds

  1. My daughter hates flocks of birds ever since she saw the Alfred Hitchcock movie. Was it called “The Birds”? I’m not sure I remember the title. It would seem a bit eerie to see that many starlings screeching in a flurry above. Yikes! Great photos for your post! Blessings to you, Jennifer…

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      Yes, the name of the movie is “The Birds.” I can certainly see how Hitchcock would have been inspired to make it, especially when I’ve been around one of the super-enormous murmurations — it’s hard to get your head around that many of anything! On my street today they seemed too preoccupied with their own business — either feeding and socializing or grooming and socializing — to be menacing. (Did I mention that they’re very gregarious birds?) It made me think of a busy-body convention, with a really large salad bar and a giant beauty salon, like “Pickalittle (Talk-a-little)” from “The Music Man” on steroids.

      Don’t let your daughter see the pictures in my post! (I’ve been inspired by you to use more visuals — thanks!)

  2. Oh, your pictures are beautiful!! I wonder if you could make some kind of jam with those fruits . . . And that last picture definitely sends some Hitchcockian chills up my spine. =)

    • Jennifer Barricklow

      Thanks, Jenna! Oddly enough, I’ve wondered the same about the @#$%^! fruits — you should see what a mess they make on the sidewalks! They gum up the treads on everyone’s shoes and get tracked into the house, leaving disturbing smears of rotting fruit at odd places on the carpets. Yuck! What were we talking about again? Oh, yes — making jam. Maybe I’ll be inspired by your comment to collect a pot full, cook ’em down, and throw ’em into my handy-dandy applesaucer! I promise to write a blog post — with pictures! — if I do.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. 🙂

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