The Arrival of the Blackbirds

Pileated Woodpecker

On Thursday I saw my first Red-winged Blackbird along the transitway while taking the bus to work. The following day I saw two more in the large cattail marsh on Richmond Road. Although the temperature dropped on Saturday to a chilly -1°C, I couldn’t wait to get out and look for these and other newly arrived migrants. I started off with a quick tour of the back roads in between Kanata and Richmond but found only a couple of Horned Larks – there were no Lapland Longspurs, no blackbirds, and no hawks. A couple of Canada Geese flying over were the only sign that migration was under way.


There were several gulls and Canada Geese resting on the large quarry pond on Moodie Drive. The quarry was still completely frozen, and as the sun was rising right behind the birds I didn’t bother to get out my scope. Instead, I continued over to Trail Road to check out the landfill. There I finally found a flock of about 20 blackbirds near the feeding area behind the second gate. The songs of the Red-winged Blackbirds were music to my ears; although they are grating and unmusical, the first time I hear that long, drawn-out “Oka-reeeeeee!” something in my winter-shrivelled soul unfurls and stretches eagerly in anticipation of a warm, sunlit spring.

Red-winged Blackbird singing

I sat in my car for a while, watching the blackbirds pecking at the ground and listening to them sing. Only when I realized there were two Common Grackles among them did I get out and attempt to take some pictures. Grackles are larger with a longer tail and have a beautiful blue-black sheen and fierce yellow eyes. While they are generally disliked for the way they take over backyard feeders and eat other birds’ eggs, they, too, are a harbinger of spring and the seeing that first one is a thrill. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the grackles, but when the blackbirds all flew up into the trees I took some photos of the Red-wings.

Red-winged Blackbird

After lunch I went for a walk at Jack Pine Trail. I was hoping to find some chipmunks but, as usual, the only mammals I found were squirrels. The ponds here, too, were frozen, so I didn’t see any ducks or geese. At least three male Red-winged Blackbirds had arrived and were calling in the marsh. The sparrow family was represented by a single American Tree Sparrow eating seeds along the path…neither the Song Sparrows nor the juncos have arrived yet.

Further along the trail I was hand-feeding a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches when I heard a woodpecker tapping. I turned and saw this gorgeous Pileated Woodpecker sitting in a sunbeam, working on what must have been a favourite tree given all the holes in it:

Female Pileated Woodpecker

This is a female, as evidenced by the two black facial stripes; males have one black stripe and one red stripe resembling a mustache. I was able to get quite close to her, which was quite thrilling as I never tire of seeing these large birds! Seeing this Pileated Woodpecker was a great way to end the day.

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