Lately, I have noticed hoards of Brewer’s Blackbirds congregating in the trees around the ten-acre ranch. They make their arrival well known as they fly in, finding perches in the tallest of trees, and making quite a racket all the while. I used to find the clamor of chatter and “chucking”, accompanied by shrill squeals, quite annoying. Back then, I would really get twisted up when a black mass of them fluttered down, quite gracefully I admit, and begin foraging on the ground around my bird feeders, and especially when they began running off the pretty songbirds. To me, these noisy beasts swarmed in like a black plague descending on the pasture, woodlands and yard.
This year, while I participated in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife’s Winter Bird Survey, I noticed more of the Brewer’s Blackbird population visiting our property and feeders than any winter in recent memory. Noticing this phenomenon, I did a little research on the species, and was relieved to know they were only a winter visitor to this area. Viewing them with my binoculars, I was surprised to note the male blackbirds were really quite appealing – glossy black all over contrasting with a staring yellow eye and a blue sheen on the head, then graduating to greenish iridescence on the back. I still did not appreciate a crowd of them moving in on the pretty songbirds at the feeders, but I guessed since they spent an equal amount of time foraging in the woodlands and pasture for seeds and insects, I could put up with them for the winter months.
Then one evening at dusk last week, I saw a lone, male Brewer’s Blackbird perched on the wildlife water tub at the bottom of our slope. As I approached I was amazed to find it did not fly away. I spoke softly to it and still it did not move, even as I drew closer. Now just a few feet away, I knew something must be wrong. Was it blind, I wondered? But as I reached to grab it, the bird flew off towards the neighbor’s bottom-land where he promptly careened into a fence and flopped onto the ground near a brier patch. Seeing this, I was sure the bird was ill, and supposed before nightfall that Ms. Foxy would likely make a meal of him.
But the next day, the blackbird had returned to the water tub and seemed just as tame as the evening before. I told FD about it, and the two of us approached the bird as it perched on a downed log near the wildlife feeder. After flying off short distances a couple of times, the blackbird finally landed in a grassy area. I was able to distract the bird from the front, while FD snuck up behind him and gently captured him. Back at the house, we quickly realized our friend was very constipated. The vent area was completely caked with poo. I cleaned the tail feathers with warm water, and used a soft cloth to soak and wipe the hardened feces away from the vent, but the cloaca was swollen and quite hardened. FD worked for a long time trying to gently remove the foul-smelling feces, but the bird was compacted far enough within the intestinal tract that it was impossible to dislodge the mass. The few kernels of poo that he did manage to extract were hard as rocks. And because the bird did not show signs of distress, it made us wonder if he had already become toxic. Doing the best we could to remove what was visible, we set our patient back out at the water tub which I had cleaned and sanitized the night before. The weather was warm and sunny. Perhaps our friend could spend the day recuperating and hopefully, healing.
Later in the afternoon, the blackbird had moved from the tub to a few feet up the hill, where he hid himself under a tree root. When I approached, he put his visible wing out and down as if to hide or shield himself. I thought this was a good sign. Maybe the fox would not see him in this area, and he would still be close to his water source. But by early evening when I took my camera down to photograph him, I found him lying dead, halfway between his hiding spot and the water tub.
Looking over my photographs of the Brewer’s Blackbird, I marvel at his beauty. I feel fortunate that he allowed us to hold him, as it is always an experience of amazement and wonder to hold a wild creature. It was a learning experience to investigate and determine what kind of help he needed, even though I am sure it was too late to do any good. Since his death, I have researched more extensively, what more we could have done. Death does not mean failure in wildlife rescue. All assistance is offered as kindness, and all encounters offer a learning experience. In this regard, our friend did not live his life in vain. Rather, he provided the gift of appreciation of a species of bird we often regard as a nuisance bird… and he allowed FD and me the opportunity to gain knowledge from yet another wildlife rescue experience.
© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…