The Suitcase Lady


May 5, 2020, 9:26 pm

Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the first birds to return north from their winter vacations. Their cheerful oak-a-lee songs can be heard when snow is still lingering on the ground.

Starting early this spring, our yard has been exceptionally graced with huge flocks of blackbirds and the air is filled with their vocalizing. On a recent morning we looked out our window to see more than the nursery rhyme’s “four and twenty blackbirds” enjoying the seeds in our bird cafe. I counted 27 redwings, but that might be too low. All the birds were males, and that set me to thinking.

I know that male Red-winged Blackbirds are extremely territorial. Each guy stakes out a territory, sits on a reed or stalk, fluffs out his red epaulets and sings like crazy. Multiple females, who resemble brown sparrows, will heed the call and nest in the male’s kingdom. So why did we have a flock of guys happily having a breakfast meeting?

A search revealed the answer from the bird specialists at Cornell University. “Even during the height of the breeding season, the males forage in flocks in neutral territory.” To keep things peaceful, they hide their red epaulets leaving only a thin yellow line.

On the same day of the blackbird breakfast, we were eating dinner and listening to Radio Swiss Jazz. The song “Blackbird” started playing, and I remarked to my husband how much I liked the song. Since Radio Swiss Jazz is listener programmed, I also commented that many others must be fans of the song as well…it is played several times each week.

My musical knowledge being very limited, I decided to look up the song’s history and got a big surprise. “Blackbird” is a Beatles song written in 1968 by Paul McCartney. Here is how he explains the lyrics:

“I was in Scotland playing my guitar and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you are only waiting for this moment to arise’, was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird.”

Sir Paul also admits purloining the idea for the melody from J.S. Bach’s Bourree In E minor.

I feel it fair to note that our backyard Red-winged Blackbirds’ songs are all original material.

Click here to hear a lovely version of the song. It’s a message for our times.

1 Comment for this entry

  • evie robillard

    Oh, Mary & Russ–I’m so glad I listened! Thanks for brightening my morning!!! And I can hardly believe it’s been 14 years!!! Congratulations!