Red-winged Blackbirds

The red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) returned to the shores of Prospect Lake several weeks ago. Every morning, on my walk across the park, I have listened to their metallic voices calling from the top of oaks, maples, and honey locusts.

Theirs is a simple, haunting, repetitive call, like a mantra: first a short phrase, with two grave notes; then a longer phrase, rapid notes rising to higher pitches without becoming shrill.

It is a sexual mantra: they are marking their territory and calling for a mate. I suppose mating depends on the voice and the brightness of their scarlet shoulders.

Blackbird down on the lake shore

Sometimes I listen to them at sundown and stay until darkness has engulfed them. They continue to sing nonetheless. At dusk, they remind me of The Beatles’ “Blackbird”, one of the most poetic songs I remember by them:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly;
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see;
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Black bird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Then I think of times when I have had broken wings and sunken eyes but have found, nonetheless, the grace of mutual support, giving and receiving love.

Some nights I am still that blackbird singing in the dead of night. But Dawn, goddess of gentle light, always comes, and I walk down to the lake to find the comfort of red-winged blackbirds calling.

Blackbirds calling on the moon, Luna

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