Back to Nature (Published on - Oct. 4, 2007)
Brewer’s blackbirds flock to Tampa Bay
The sun reflects like tiny prisms upon the beautiful, iridescent feathers of the Brewer’s blackbird.
Even though Sept. 23 was officially the first day of fall, the signs of autumn aren’t quite as obvious in Florida as our northern counterparts, unless the more apparent signs like heavier than normal highway traffic, fewer unoccupied mall parking spaces and longer lines at restaurants are considered.

One really has to get out and carefully observe natural Florida to notice that the cypress trees are changing gradually to a yellow-green, the beauty berry is beginning to produce beautiful magenta berries, the dreaded love bugs and the alluring dragonflies have begun to gather in large numbers, turkey tracks can be seen again in the sand of the damp woods, tropical storms hover off the Florida coastline and intermittently birders can spot large flocks of birds traveling together again as the winter migration time draws closer.

Several readers have inquired about the great flocks of blackbirds with bright yellow eyes that have been gathering in yards, trees, on power-lines, fields, parks and feeders. The birds you are seeing are most likely Brewer’s blackbirds: Euphagus cyanocephalus.

Brewer’s blackbirds, named after ornithologist Thomas Mayo Brewer, are fairly common blackbirds. The males are black birds with a deep, glossy purple luster to their head and neck feathers and a metallic greenish-purple sheen over their bodies and wings. They are very beautiful birds. The females and juveniles are brownish-gray. Males have bright whitish-yellow eyes. The eyes of the female Brewer’s blackbird are dark brown. Brewer’s blackbirds have a harsh, wheezy voice.

Brewer’s blackbirds are easily confused with Rusty Blackbirds which are the same size, 9 inches. The bill of the Rusty Blackbird is longer and the eye of the female is yellow. The colorful reflections on the Brewer’s Blackbird are much more brilliant than on the duller Rusty Blackbird.

In winter, one sure way to identify the two birds is to observe the females. The Rusty female is rusty brown in winter, gray in spring with a distinguishable, light yellow eye. Another bird that Brewer’s are sometimes confused with is the common grackle, but the grackle is a larger bird of 11 inches and has a long, wedge-shaped tail.

Brewer’s blackbirds nest in colonies. Unless there is a surplus of females, males generally seem to stay with the same mate. The male and female pair separate during winter, joining each other each spring. This accounts for seeing large flocks of either sex almost exclusively. This behavior also attributes to the difficulty some people have in identifying males without females present in the migrating flocks.

Brewer’s like to forage in large flocks with other blackbirds for insects near shallow water, fields, prairies, suburbs, parks and farms. Brewer’s have no qualms about foraging through human garbage either, but for the most part Brewer’s blackbirds are beneficial eating large quantities of grasshoppers, caterpillars and destructive agricultural insect pests.

They also enjoy seeds and berries. These gregarious opportunists have successfully expanded their territory from western to the eastern United States over the past 60 years making the Brewer’s blackbird a not so uncommon sight in autumn in Florida ... back to nature.

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