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Why Are Blackbirds Black?

Why are blackbirds black? One possible answer is that black is conspicuous against just about all of Nature's backgrounds. Blackbirds, like this flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, feed on the ground. Whenever a predator approaches, they take flight. Coming together quickly in a dense mass may confuse the predator and thwart its attempts to catch one of the birds.

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BirdNote®

Why Are Blackbirds Black?

Written by Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote!
[Red-winged Blackbird song]
With birds coming in all the bright colors of the rainbow, why are blackbirds [pause] black? One possible answer is that black is conspicuous against just about all of Nature’s backgrounds. So if a bird wants to be seen, black isn’t a bad color to be. But why would a blackbird want to be seen? Perhaps it’s because many blackbirds are flocking birds.
[Brewer’s Blackbird calls] These Brewer’s Blackbirds wander around the countryside in flocks, after the breeding season. They feed on the ground, and whenever a predator approaches, members of the flock sound the alarm and take flight. Being black allows them to see each other clearly. This quick recognition in turn enables them to come together quickly in a dense mass, which may confuse the predator and thwart its attempts to catch one of the birds.
[Mixed blackbird flock with lots of calls; Red-winged Blackbird song]
Forming large groups seems to be an integral part of the life of most species of blackbirds, from cowbirds to grackles to these Red-winged Blackbirds we’re hearing. And Mother Nature’s painting them black helps them gather together in self-protective flocks. [Red-winged Blackbird song]
Be part of our flock. No matter how large or small your gift might be, your donation to BirdNote helps keep the show on the air. Learn more at BirdNote.org. I’m Mary McCann.
###

Call of the Red-winged Blackbird provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by W.W.H. Gunn.
Brewer’s Blackbirds' calls recorded and provided by K. Colver.
Producer: John Kessler
© 2011 Tune In to Nature.org            January 2011         Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# 013007blackbirdKPLU   blackbird-01b

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