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The Backyard Science group regularly features the Daily Bucket. Originally, Backyard Science was designed for folks to document the year-to-year changes in our own back yards.  Yet for many, everywhere before us is part of our backyard; the forests; the shorelines; the mountains; the sky; all of it. You cannot document what you don't describe, so Buckets describe many things. In this Bucket, however, I will describe what I cannot document.

Yet any natural subject, from meteors to slugs,  is appropriate for a Bucket or a comment for a Bucket.  Had your  first freeze? Seen an interesting bug?  Are you talking to the squirrels again? Please provide a comment about your natural area, especially your backyard. Include, as close as you are comfortable, the general site of your location.


Whenever hawks fly over the open pasture land, the blackbird sentries sound the alarm, and dozens of blackbirds immediately take to the air.  They will harass the much larger hawks, squawking, diving in and pecking, and even riding on its back.

Usually the hawks will abandon the air space over the pasture, and speed away to shelter in the distant oaks.  

Not only did the blackbirds frequently drive off the hawks, the blackbirds’ noisy attacks also warned the other birds and ducks that predators were overhead.

But some of the birds in the pastureland objected to the blackbirds, and all the birds in the pasturelands and nearby ponds came to a big meeting to discuss it.

“There are too many blackbirds here,” said the killdeer,” They are eating up all the worms and bugs that we used to have to ourselves. And the noise when they attack the large birds that fly over.  All that squawking? It gives me a headache. They breed like crazy; 14 young a year?  We killdeer make do with 4.  They’re messy too.”

“I agree,” said the duck, “They even attacked a heron the other day.  That’s a fellow water bird and wouldn’t ever hurt us.  That pasture that’s filled with blackbirds is right next to our pond.  That should be a public area but they are there all the time. Those used to be our worms that they’re eating.”

The Blackbirds huddled together, their yellow eyes staring hard at their critics. Finally one spoke.

“Yes, we did drive off a heron.  We attack any bird larger than us; eagles, osprey, harriers, red tail hawks and even herons.  Any bird that big could be up to no good. Ninety-nine percent of us are little birds, and we have to stick together against the big birds.”

The killdeer responded, “Well, I like having the eagle around.  They protect us from the bobcats.”

That was too much for the coot, “We all heard about the terrible bobcat attack, but that was over 10 years ago,” he said, “We’ve got more to worry about from those big eagles being around now, than we ever did from a bobcat we haven’t seen for a decade.”

The blackbirds began talking among themselves. Finally their leader turned to the other birds.

“We’ve tried to contribute in our own way. We won’t stay where we’re not wanted. We could overwinter here, but we won’t now. We’ll migrate south starting tomorrow.”

True to their word, swirling clouds of hundreds of Brewers Blackbirds (euphagus cyanocephalus) rose from the pastures the next day, and packed tightly into the nearby trees, crowding onto the sagging branches, until the flock had assembled. Then, in a long ribbon of murmuration, they wended their way into the autumn sky, and headed south.  

Vast areas of the pasture lay empty behind them.

The ducks and killdeer happily swept into the vacant pasture the next morning, feasting on the vast numbers of worms that remained easily available on the damp, closely mowed surface, just after sunrise.

None of them noticed the shadows that drifted towards the pastureland, from the oak forest on the horizon.  None of them noticed the red tails and harrier hawks, the ospreys, and the eagles assembling in the fir trees on the very border of the pasture.  The predators warily eyed each other, but focused mainly on the birds on the ground below them.

Without the blackbirds there to sound a loud alert and harass them, the hawks could attack without warning.

The harrier went first, gliding in quietly just a few feet above the ground, and then plummeting onto a killdeer, triggering an explosion of feathers and a loud squawk from the prey.

The red tail hawks soon followed, each claiming a duck from the pasture.

In the nearby pond, the coots hurriedly gathered their families and sought cover under a tree by the waters’ edge.  A few moments later, the ospreys and eagles dove onto the pond, snatching up ducks.

The duck who’d spoke against the blackbirds tried to herd his progeny into the reeds, but a heron intercepted his course, and speared one of the ducklings.

“But you’re a water bird!” the father duck quacked.
“I am a predator first,” the heron responded.

The coot family watched these events from their hiding place beneath the tree branches. Every sound of splashing water and strangled quacks marked the demise of another duck.  

Finally father coot turned to his children and said,”This would not have happened if we hadn’t driven off the blackbirds.  Let this be a lesson. Do not despise those that are helpful to you.”

Some of this is true. The blackbirds do post lookouts, and harass any large birds that fly over. Often the ducks and killdeer act sullen towards the blackbirds. And after the blackbirds left this Fall, predators immediately began claiming killdeer and ducks on the pasture land of the golf course where I observe wildlife.

I have not witnessed all of the specific acts of predation described herein, but the internet assured me that heron will eat ducklings, osprey eat ducks, and ducks and killdeer eat worms.

I apologize, in this parable for any apparent attribution of base human motives to the highly honorable eagles, red tail and harrier hawks, and osprey.

Now it's your turn to post a brief comment about your own corner of the world, parable not required.

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