Flight of the blackbirds

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Town Environmental Project Manager Janine Spencer writes about one of the many natural wonders in Marana.

One dark day last month, enormous numbers of blackbirds were dripping from power lines and covering the sides of a field where sorghum had just been harvested along Moore Road in Marana. Their bright yellow heads gave the impression of a field of yellow flowers.

The sight was so amazing that cars stopped along the side of the road, people leaning out of windows to hear the cacophony of bird calls and photographing the huge parliament of blackbirds.

The sky was heavy and dark with the threat of rain or snow, but the blackbirds were undeterred in their zeal to consume the fallen sorghum seeds and small invertebrates in the soil. Yellow-headed blackbirds far outnumbered the red-winged and Brewer’s blackbirds in the mixed flock. The appearances of yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds are self-evident. Brewer’s blackbirds are more understated in their coloration, but in the sunshine, their feathers shimmer in shiny black, green and violet. All female blackbirds are a nondescript brown.

Yellow-headed and Brewer’s blackbirds primarily inhabit our area during the winter; nesting in marshes farther north during the summer. The red-winged blackbirds live here year-round.

Some evenings as you drive from Marana toward Tucson, you can see miles of blackbirds flying parallel to the Santa Cruz River course. It’s a photo-worthy moment and an event that makes you slow down to appreciate the many wonders of wildlife.

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