Sometime in March I was looking out the kitchen window and saw blackbirds at the feeder. Grackles? Cowbirds? I grabbed the binoculars. The birds were a deep, glossy black…with a yellow band on the wings, like a racing stripe on a car. Then one bird flexed his wings and flashed his bright red epaulets at the world as if signaling in another new season. Redwings!
Our yard is usually a quick stop on the migration route for the red-winged blackbirds as they continue on wherever they go every spring. But this year it looks like they’ve decided to stay. There are several males, but no females yet. They show up later, after the males have found a suitable place to nest. When the girls arrive the boys will compete for their attention, each one trying to prove he is the biggest and flashiest red-wing around. I’m keeping a keen eye out for this display. I don’t want to miss the show. And I do hope the females are happy with the neighborhood.
In celebration of National Poetry Month and the return of the red-winged blackbirds — this by the famous Kentucky poet, Robert Penn Warren, from the anthology Bright Wings…
“How far a-winging to keep this appointment with April!
How much breath left in reserve to fill
The sky of washed azure and whipped-cream cumuli
With their rusty, musical, heart-plumbing cry!
On sedge, winter-bit but erect, on old cattails, they swing.
Throats throb, your field glasses say, as they cling and sing —
If singing is what you call that rusty, gut-grabbing cry
That calls on life to be lived gladly, gladly…
The globe grinds on, proceeds with the business of Aprils and men.
Next year will redwings see me, or I them, again then?
If not, some man else may pause, awaiting that rusty, musical cry,
And catch — how gallant — the flash of epaulets scarlet against blue sky.”
Live life gladly this spring!
“Redwing Blackbirds” by Robert Penn Warren, from Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, Edited by Billy Collins with Paintings by David Allen Sibley.
Photo: Drawing of the red-winged blackbird from the Reader’s Digest Book of North American Birds.