For the Birds

Last weekend I visited my parents, who still live on the farm where I grew up. They were in the middle of an invasion. The place was overwhelmed by blackbirds.

Leaving the house to go for a walk, we could hear the birds before we saw them. The twittering coming from thousands of feathered black throats made a continuous background noise. The sound was an ominous cross between the buzzing of a swarm of bees and the shrieking of an elementary school playground at recess.

The sight of the birds was as uncomfortable as the sound. Like a new crop of black leaves, they covered the bare top branches of the dead Chinese elms in the old windbreak. Another part of the flock was lined up, wing to wing, along the wires between utility poles.

As we walked down the road, we could see still more birds scattered across the pasture. Sharp black heads stuck up out of the dry grass like a crop of late-blooming dark flowers. When, disturbed by our presence, they took to the air, it looked as if the prairie had suddenly caught fire and plumes of smoke were flowing skyward.

We walked for perhaps a mile along the road, watching the skeins of birds rise up in front of us and settle back behind us. Their sound was a steady accompaniment to our walk, like the musical score of a movie in which nothing bad has happened—yet.

I’ve never seen blackbirds in such numbers. Presumably they were in the neighborhood to take advantage of several nearby fields of ripening sunflowers. It would only take one or two visits by those airborne hordes to reduce a field, and the year’s profits for its owner, to nothing.

This weekend is supposed to be cold and rainy. It will be the kind of weather to curl up on the couch, maybe with a rented movie. I don’t think I’ll get Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Categories: Wild Things | Leave a comment

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