The birds woke me up, hundreds of them, so many and so surprising that I thought they must be overflow from a dream or a recording Ken was listening to in the other room. But when I looked outside, I saw the giant swarm of red-winged blackbirds — one of my favorite of all the flying beings — filling every branch in Cottonwood Mel as well as ground they pecked bare below the bird feeder.
Where did they come from? Where are they going? I don’t know, but watching them dive upward, circle down to the feeder, then flutter back to the tree, I aimed my eyes toward their red wings against the iridescent black against the fields of snow.
In little time, the large feeder was empty, and Ken cajoled me to step outside in my slippers and refill it. Of course just opening the door made them scatter at high speed, and I think that wearing zebra-print pajamas probably didn’t help them feel too welcome to return in a hurry, so I went back in once my mission was accomplished and watched. Our regulars — the pushy but elegant cardinals, intrepid chickadees, flashy red-bellied woodpeckers, and sweet but nervous juncos — returned, used to the human-bird feeder routine. They rushed in full force, getting all they could, and keeping a scared eye to the sky.
First one red-winged blackbird returned, an early scout, then we saw about three. Within a few minutes, there were a dozen, and soon hundreds poured back in, freaking out the littler birds but eventually settling into a pattern. First the red-winged blackbirds rush the feeder in groups in 4-7, and after a bunch of them had their fill, they moved onto the cottonwood. Then the little birds made a run for it, doing their usual mid-air jostling on occasion. Cardinals every so often, as they are prone to do, crashed into our windows, cats on the other side making their strange eeking sounds (as in, “This is the best movie I’ve ever seen”). And the humans watching it all — this glimpse of spirit on the wing — took pictures, pointed, asked questions and followed the line of the flock from feeder to cottonwood to long slope over the snow-fog sky to wherever they go next.