Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blackbird Singin' in the Dead of Winter

It will be a long time yet before cattail clumps are sheltering baby red-wing blackbirds.  But I learned today that I wasn't deluded to go looking for daddy red-wings this early in March.  Bob Henke, outdoors columnist for the Glens Falls Post Star, reported in his column today that he saw his first red-wing on February 27, "singing to proclaim his territorial boundaries in a nasty snow flurry."  And that robin I saw yesterday?  According to Henke, robins (and bluebirds, too) were here a couple of weeks before the blackbird.  And all of them are males, "decked out in their finest battle dress."  The females are still down south, keeping warm and fattening up for the nesting rigors to come.  They won't arrive for maybe a month or more.

But what do these male birds find to eat up here while the ground is frozen, no buds are sprouting, no insects crawling or flying about, and all the dried fruits and seeds leftover from fall have pretty much been eaten up by winter residents? Well, they often don't eat anything. The only thing on their minds is finding good nesting sites to lure their mates when the females at last arrive, and in avian real estate battles, it's usually first come, first claimed.  As Henke explains, "Although male birds sometimes fight quite viciously over territories, studies show that in more than 95 percent of the conflicts, the male who was resident in the territory wins out over an interloper."  So the goal is to get here first, even if it means going unfed for a month or so.  And apparently we can't help them much by hanging extra feeders. As Henke writes, "no male will leave his turf unguarded to go looking for a snack."

Henke closes his column with this sobering statistic:  "Couple this stress with the demands of feeding a hungry brood or two over the summer and you will understand why less than 10 percent of passerine [migratory] males survive to make a second migration."  

So the early bird doesn't get the worm.  Let's hope he at least gets the girl.


John Warren said...

Just heard you on WAMC - great job! And a great blog.

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, John. Your blog Adirondack Almanack is the first one I go to each day. Thanks for listing mine in your Blog Roundup. That brought me some new readers, their comments extending the conversation. I so enjoy the back and forth of it all.