Posted by: atowhee | January 7, 2013


Large ungulates attract birds. In East Africa oxpeckers follow hippos and water buffalo. Once upon a time the Tricolored Blackbird followed the elk herds as Brown-headed Cowbirds once followed the bison. Cattle egret are, well, egrets that can be found around cattle. Modern farming in America had largely substituted cows for the wild herds, birds adapt as best they can. So at the west edge of the Klamath Mountains, the eastern boundary of the Klamath Basin the cow herds attack cow birds.
COWBIRDS (1280x960)
When we encountered this sooty blizzard of biurds the only recourse was to shoot lots of pictures and sort through them later. With digital tech you can get a pretty good bead on the individual birds.

So let’s look through some enlarged portions of the shots (I took a couple hundred altogether, hoping for randomly good images of individual birds). For best study click on each picture to enlarge it. TRHREE SPECIES In this image above there’s a Yellow-headed Blackbird male and a Red-winged male along with the many Brewer’s Blackbirds. The whole flock is headed left.

TRIC AND MORE Look closely near the center of this crowd of Icterids when you have the image enlarged. To right of center is a Yellow-headed Blackbird and to the bird’s left is a blackbird with a narrow white slash from front partway toward the back of its wing. This is a Tricolored. Look at the white on Yellow-heads, the white’s a narrow line along the front edge, not running parallel to the birds length as on Trics.

TRIC FLITEThe inage above may be tghe best of hundreds. It clearly shows the three blackbird species near one another, each with different colored wing pattern. The Tric is at 7pm from the center and flying parallel to, slightly above and behind, a nicely marked Red-wing.

In this picture the Tric is right in center, pale slash on its wing.
And then below we see flock as a Matisse collage, paper cut-outs on a blue background: BKRD ABSTRACT (1280x960)

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MOREEUST IN FLK (1280x960) No blackbird flock in winter woudl be complete without the Starling as an ingredient. Here you see the European Starling with its silvery underwings.

LAPPIE IN FLITE (1280x960) Wonder who else is hiding in the crowd? How about this possible Lapland Longspur at the far left hand center of this picture? Noah Strycker looked it over and suggests this is a mere House Sparrow due to facial coloring. He’s probably right. I suspect there were Horned Larks, maybe even a Meadowlark or two (the latter not a ttrue lark but actually a near relative of all the blackbirds in the flock). NOw I can never go past a big swirling flock of “blackbirds” without trying for some photos.


  1. It is indeed a House Sparrow. But this photo is an excellent example of how to tell female Redwing and Tricolored apart. At the top center, kind of by itself, is a female Tricolored, showing the very dark belly, more pointed wings and more cold grayish look. Below it at an angle to the right are a couple of female redwings, showing much paler bellies, more rounded wings and typical buffy-rufous colors.

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