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The Blackbird's Reward by Mick Zerr 2017
Children often wonder about things in nature, and why they are that way. Around the wonderful wetlands of eastern Dakota, the beautiful Yellow-headed Blackbird often draws the question as to why its song is so unpleasant. Children need answers that make sense, so here is the story of the Yellow-headed Blackbird’s beautiful colors and croaking song.
As the ancient story goes:
In the beginning, birds were given the choice of many beautiful colors. Unfortunately, one of the blackbirds arrived late, and all the choices were already taken. The now beautiful all-yellow Goldfinch, who was the last to select, was curious as to why the poor blackbird was late, and asked him why. The blackbird replied, in a weak croaking voice, that on his way he came upon an eagle that had just learned to fly, and needed to climb a tree to take off so he could select a his color with the rest of the birds . The kindly blackbird helped the eagle up the tree, (cheering him on as he ascended each branch), so he could fly to get his color choice, as he wanted to be a beautiful all white bird as white as the clouds high up in the sky. But the young eagle kept falling just as he was near the top. Blackbird would not give up, as he had been helped to fly for the first time when he was a fledgling by a most patient mother blackbird. He said to the eagle “young eagle, look to the clouds, for it is your destiny to fly the highest and soar the longest so you can keep a keen eye on all of nature below”. So as the eagle moved up to each branch, blackbird would sing as loud as he could, “Look to the clouds and fly high!” Each time the young eagle heard the blackbird’s song, he would get stronger, and soon he was at the highest branch and lifted his long wings and the wind took him high in the sky. He looked back at the tired blackbird and did an aerial display of great skill to show his gratitude. Blackbird was very pleased that eagle made it and tried to sing out “good luck”, but by now he had lost his voice from cheering the eagle on, and only croaking came out.
Blackbird was very tired from helping the heavy eagle so he had to rest, and that is why he was late. Just then, the white eagle showed up and saw the blackbird talking to the beautiful yellow Goldfinch, who told the eagle that blackbird did not make it on time, and could not ever be beautiful. After some discussion between them, eagle and Goldfinch told blackbird that his sacrifice to help eagle out must be rewarded, so the beautiful white eagle gave his white body color to blackbird's wings, and Goldfinch took the color from his beautiful yellow wings and gave it to blackbird's head, and to this day, that is why Goldfinch have black wings and yellow bodies, Bald Eagles have white heads and dark bodies, and the Yellow-headed Blackbird, who has a hoarse crackly voice, has a beautiful yellow head and striking white wing patches.
Why small birds chase Crows
by Mick Zerr © 2016
In the beginning, birds were given the choice of many beautiful colors and songs. As the colors and songs were chosen, the crow sat back and watched, but did not select a song, nor a color; not even for his eyes and legs, as he is totally black. The wise owl noticed this and asked him way he has not selected a color or a song. The black crow told the owl he had selected something better than a nice color; he had selected “clever”, and with it came a one word song, CAW! The owl had no idea what any of that meant, so he shrugged his wings and flew off, not giving a hoot for the crow’s answer.
After all the colors and songs had been handed out, the birds were discussing who had which colors and which song, when Cardinal, who had selected beautiful red for his color, had a distressing thought. His bright color would make him visible to snakes and other enemies. Goldfinch joined in, indicating his bright yellow color also would be dangerous, and his song would bring danger to his nest.
The other birds were also listening to them and had the same concerns. What would they do? It was clear that their desire for bright colors and beautiful songs would be costly.
Brown Thrasher, with his beautiful rusty brown back and neat spotted breast, noticed the black crow watching them with a smile on his beak. “What are you smiling about, foolish black crow, you did not even pick a color, and your song is one word?” Crow replied, “I picked something better than a color, I picked “clever”, and my one word song helps with it.” The thrasher had not heard of “clever”, so he asked crow what it was. Crow indicated that it was a way to stay safe and help others stay safe. As they heard what crow was saying, the other birds came over, still discussing the dangers of their beautiful colors and wonderful songs.
“Can your “clever” help us with our problem?” said the birds to the crow, in unison.
“Great”, said crow, “that is why I picked “clever” instead of color, so I can help others.”
So the birds lined up, and each told crow of their fears that their colors and songs would endanger them. “Very well, said crow, here are the clever solutions for each of you.” The birds all lined up to hear what the crow had to say to each of them.
“Yellow and black Goldfinch, you will eat from the yellow and black sunflower, thereby your color will hide you. Red Cardinal, you will feed only late in the day and early in the morning, so your red color will blend in with everything and keep you safe. Brown Thrasher, you will feed under bushes where your colors will blend in and protect you well. Nighthawk, you will nest in rocks where your colors will make you almost invisible. Brown Creeper, you will move up and down tree trunks where your color will look like bark. Cedar Waxwing, with your spots of many colors, you will eat in fruit trees and blend in with the fruit. Yellow-headed Blackbird, who picked beauty instead of song, you blend in with the yellow reeds in which you live."
Crow went on and on, helping each bird to fit his color to help stay safe. He told each bird to not sing their beautiful song when they were nesting so their babies would stay safe. The clever Crow told them he would be constantly reminding them to stay safe be calling “Caw” to them. (It is said the ancient humans word CAUtion came from this.)
So that is why the crow is black, caws constantly, is the most clever of all birds, and if you see small birds chasing crows in the sky, they are actually begging the crows for clever advice on how to stay safe. It is said that if you look closely, you will see a smile on the happy Crow’s beak.
A look, a sound, a flash, a feather,
Necks crooked, glass up, focus.
Make no mind what the weather.
We must see it, and make a fuss.
A lifer perhaps, for county or state.
A goal of some, the passion of others.
Seldom found, a lifetime to wait.
Fun to share with birding brothers.
Will it be new on the list?
A gift from Mother, or God if you will.
Knowing not if it be hit or miss.
Either way ‘twill be a thrill.
More have come, with glass at ready,
Having heard rumor of feathered rareness.
Who started it still a mystery.
Perhaps a joke so they can watch us .
The tree of suspicion now in sight
All ears at perk and fingers crossed,
The sun now making perfect light.
We must see it at any cost.
As leaves rustle and breaths are held,
Like statues waiting for the apparition.
Glasses up, to eyes they weld,
Ready to partake in this great tradition.
Now the wait will soon be done
As this lifer birding comes to peak,
With friends and others having fun,
All in hope for the bird we seek.
Here at last, it takes to flight
Indeed a beauty sleek, with a song to love.
Alas and alack, birders just sigh at the sight.
Behold, ‘tis but a Mourning Dove.
Peopleing on 2-19-06
Dear fellow peoplers, it was cold today, but there was plenty of grain at the Corson feed lot. We were hoping for some birders to add to our life lists, since peopleing has been rather slow due to the weather, and of course, the constant danger from the Red-tailed ones who could care less about us Peoplers.
We flew near every people’s car that came by, but none seemed interested in us. That is a slam, since we feel that we are a rare and unique group of flyers, at least in South Dakota. I can’t wait till spring when many People Birders (PB’s) will be out, even though the competition with the non-residents, especially those fair weather peoplers, the Warblers, will be intense.
We were about ready to give up when a silver car filled with people came by very slowly. We quickly checked our field guides, and discovered it was a SUV, a common car for PB’s. If we would be lucky enough to have PB’s in it, it could be a life-PB for most of us, especially if it contained more than one PB.
One of our newer members asked how we could tell a PB from a human who has stopped for another reason, and we quickly opened our field guide and showed him the telltale trait. The Binoculars! But we reminded him that not all PB’s have the same behaviors, for some have Cameras (p. 32 in the guide), and people who stop and have GUNS, mean fast flying away for us.
Anyway, we were flying all around the silver car and finally it stopped, and lo and behold, PB’s stepped out. We were so thrilled we Cooed at them, and let them get a good look at us before flying away to tell others about our sighting. (boy are those Rock Pigeons going to be jealous),
Our new member exclaimed, “I’m hooked, peopleing is fun, and a lot less dangerous than teasing hunters for thrills!” I was really happy for him because it is really difficult to get younger birds interested in Peopleing.
From your Friendly Eurasian Collared Dove Peopleing Club
Inspired while watching birders at Corson, SD 2006