Brewer’s Blackbird

December 16th, 2019: Sometimes your best bird is in a parking lot

It was a busy, cold, and incredibly rainy week. That doesn’t always stop me, but this week it meant no real birding outing. Instead, I kept my ears and eyes open (as I always do) through my soaking, mundane errands. (Otherwise, how the heck was I supposed to find a new bird to write about this week!) As I was coming back north from Portland, I was happy to come across a mixed flock of city birds in a mall parking lot.

In Vancouver, your typical parking lot birds are things like House Sparrow, Northwestern Crow, European Starling, Glaucous-winged Gull, and maybe a smattering of White-crowned Sparrow in the green median spaces between lots.

Glaucous-winged Gulls doing their thing
Glaucous-winged Gulls doing their thing

In southern Washington State, this shifts slightly. It still includes House Sparrow and European Starling, of course. But you’ll find American Crow, instead of Northwestern Crow (assuming you’re a true believe and you regard these as separate species). You’ll see relatively few gulls being back from the ocean a little, and you can often add Brewer’s Blackbird to the mix.

Brewer's Blackbird (male) singing at Iona Island; photograph very much not taken this week
Brewer’s Blackbird (male) singing at Iona Island; photograph very much not taken this week

We certainly have Brewer’s Blackbirds in Metro Vancouver. But they’re not numerous around here. Instead, our most numerous black icterid by far is the Red-winged Blackbird, followed by Brown-headed Cowbird. You need to work a little harder to find Yellow-headed Blackbird, Bullock’s Oriole, and Rusty Blackbird around here (but they’re all possible).

Red-winged Blackbird (our most common bird from the family icteridae)
Red-winged Blackbird (our most common bird from the family icteridae)
Yellow-headed Blackbird: a gorgeous spring visiter
Yellow-headed Blackbird: a gorgeous spring visiter

If you want to find the glossy black-blue-green-violet-headed Brewer’s Blackbird around here, your best is the Boundary Bay/Delta area. I very often see them along Delta’s Deltaport Way. During the spring though, they’re more spread out and you can hear them singing their beautiful, short, liquid-metallic song at places like Iona Island. The sewage lagoons are particularly good. (Every birder loves sewage lagoons, right?)

Brewer’s Blackbird song (from Xeno-Canto.org recorded by Bruce Lagerquist in Oregon)

Brewer’s Blackbirds are highly social and nest in colonies of up to 100 birds. And the species has expanded well alongside human development. Out west, we tend to see them along roads, or on fields. But they’ve actually expanded well east from western Minnesota. Where they now overlap in the east with Common Grackle, the Common Grackles take the streets, while the Brewer’s stick to fields and grasslands.

Brewer's Blackbird at Iona Island sewage lagoons
Brewer’s Blackbird at Iona Island sewage lagoons

Sometimes you can find exciting stuff in a parking lot. ‘Tis the season, I suppose: the season where one tends to spend more time in parking lots than usual… =)

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