Sunday, January 15, 2006

11. Brewer's Blackbird

What to say about this bird? You see them everywhere. It's very much an urban bird, equally comfortable hopping around in street-side gutters and beneath benches in the park. The beggars come bouncing up to your feet, cocking their heads to peer at you with a bright yellow eye, demanding your sandwich. Just a bite. Just one. Come on. Seriously, please. Just one.

It is, I thought when I tried to think of what I would say about it, an utterly unremarkable bird. But it counts all the same. And I thought maybe I would just note where I saw it--on Fell Street in a pack of five or six, nosing around in a heap of leaves at the edge of the street opposite the ATM.

And so that's what I'll do. I'll just note where I saw it and when. What is there to say? And besides, there are so many left to catalogue, what could I possibly say about such a mundane wallflower. Who contemplates grackles?

But of course, they weren't grackles at all. They were Brewer's Blackbirds. Only I didn't know that until I went to check it off in my field guide. Grackles are much larger--ten to twelve inches--and are only occasional on the Pacific Coast.

And when I found that there was something to this bird, after all. A case of mistaken identity, for one. I'd been calling it by the wrong name for as long as I can remember. In my mind, it took me back to the fields of Marin county, where the Brewer's red-winged cousins swarm fence-rows come Springtime. And I wonder if I'll ever see these little birds again without thinking of the Beatles and Charles Manson.

Sometimes a grackle is just a grackle, but in this case it was something more.


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