Michael Pearce

Giant swarms of blackbirds continue to amaze

They rolled across the landscape towards us like a quarter-mile wide black cloud that rose and fell, snapped and twirled in Tuesday morning’s heavy winds.

From the distance they’d looked like dark smoke. Closer, I could see so many thousands of blackbirds flying together in one of Mother Nature’s most amazing displays. Few places have I seen them more often than central Kansas.

Experts tell us such blackbird gatherings are appropriately called clouds, and they sometimes number in the hundreds of thousands of individual birds.

Gathered for the rich grain in the area, many of these flocks of migrating birds include several kinds of blackbirds, including red-winged and yellow-headed, and starlings. Farmer friends tell of days when flocks seemingly cover every head of milo in an 80 acre field, causing damage to the field’s yield.

To watch them at sunset, settling into a broad patch of cattails to roost for the night, is worth the wait until the last bird is settled.

In the past I’ve seen thick flocks an honest mile from first birds to last near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. On windy days I’ve had them pass within yards above, to the sides, and even below where I waited for deer and watched the birds from elevated shooting houses. Big flocks have had to rise to keep from hitting my vehicle or me in the past.

I love it when they do the follow the leader, crack the whip flight patterns across the sky. Better is when they take roller coaster routes up and down, around and around, climbing high into the sky then plummeting almost to the ground.

I once watched many thousand of the birds flush from a field, rising in a tight circle that spread as the flock rose. Hundreds of feet in the air the cloud thinned, then took off to the east in serpentine fashion.

Tuesday morning’s flock in Harvey County was far from the largest, or most acrobatic, I’ve seen, as they came across the landscape and over the pond where I was hunting geese. I had to set the gun and the calls aside and just enjoy the show that passed only a few yards overhead.

That display will provide better memories than the great hunting and good dog work of the morning.

I’ll probably see such displays hundreds of more times in my life. I hope they always seem as special.