The Bird Meme: Day 29

Day 29: A bird everyone hates but you like

Red-winged Blackbird

A strange prompt, this one. For one thing, I don't really know that I could name a bird that everyone hates, though it seems likely that the least popular species in the North American count area would most likely be the invasive ones--with the foreigners, European Starling and House Sparrow, at the top of the list, with invaders from other regions  (such as the House Finch) coming just below them. I suspect even the more attractive members of the exotic species will attract at least some ire, since the Mute Swan and Ring-necked Pheasant are displacing some native birds, but the Ring-neck has been embraced by many Americans, including those in South Dakota, who made it their state bird. I'm not sure yet what to make of the rapidly expanding population of Eurasian Collared-Doves, which don't seem to have attracted the same kind of hatred as the Starling, despite being equally exotic,

But if I can't think of a bird everyone actively loathes, I can certainly name a bird that hardly any birders actively love. Indeed, the Red-winged Blackbird would seem to be so widespread and so conspicuous that many birders consider it beneath their notice. In my youth, they weren't a common sight in Chapel Hill, but any trip to visit my mom's family in the Low Country of South Carolina would scare up redwings aplenty. I therefore got used to viewing them as something of a treat, a slightly exotic bird of the marshlands whose liquid rattles were part of the background music of the Sea Islands--the feathered version of the cicada.

There's no question that the male is both stunning and woefully underappreciated. The glossy jet-black plumage is accented perfectly by the two epaulets, scarlet chased with yellow, patches providing just enough color to pop out from the contrasting background. (It's also a combination of colors that I particularly love; the tricolored German flag is one of my very favorite examples of vexillology.) In addition, the sleek shape, from pointed bill to stiff tail, makes it look completely at home in the air--a bird fully deserving a namesake like the SR-71 spy plane.

But I understand why some people don't appreciate them: they're common as dirt. As hydrogen, even. When I arrived in Iowa City in 1995, I was stunned by their numbers. There seemed to be a redwing atop every stalk of grass in the Hawkeye State. No matter how beautiful a bird is, there comes a point where its ubiquity drowns out its beauty. Stars are beautiful, too, but after a cluster of them gets too big, they stop being pretty and become either commonplace or actively painful to look out. In parts of the country, I feel confident that the Red-winged Blackbird has become the former, though I can't rule out the latter.

In addition, there's nothing especially gorgeous about the female or the juvenile male. Other than the pointed bill and the general size and shape, there's not much similarity with the male's field marks, and streaks of mottled brown don't excite many birders no matter what bird is sporting them. So yeah, I can see why people don't get excited about them. I also understand why not everyone loves Robyn Hitchcock's music, or the novels of John Varley, or a perfectly-cooked batch of collard greens. De gustibus non est disputandum, as the poet says.

But don't ever let me hear you calling the redwing a "trash bird."

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 20, 2017 8:15 PM.

The Bird Meme: Day 28 was the previous entry in this blog.

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