February 12, 2007

Spring in winter

61 red-winged blackbird
(total on this date in 2006: 50)

Feb. 11, BEAR CREEK, partly cloudy, 40—This week I went west on Columbia’s Bear Creek trail. I enjoyed a kestrel at the peak of a sycamore, kingfisher moving along the creek in front of me, rattling all the way, and
a solitary duck winging high overhead.

But nothing compared to the red-winged blackbirds.

Red-winged blackbirds return to Missouri some time in February, and the 15 I saw probably half-wished they'd canceled their return flight. The male redwings wore faded, ragged red-and-yellow shoulder patches (or epaulettes), which they flash in spring as an all-powerful mark of social status (hey, it's cheaper than an Escalade).

The interesting part about the epaulettes is they can be covered easily by feathers, and a redwing male intruding into foreign territory (either to claim it or find food) will hide his. He is thus ready to submit to the territory owner and avoid a fight. But if the intruder finds the territory vacant, out flash the epaulettes! Spring is not far off.


Post a Comment

<< Home