Day 31 of 100 Days of Blogging

With only two more days to go before you have to light up that Jack-o-lantern on your doorstep, the Icteridae, with their predominantly black plumage accented by orange, yellow or red, are the ideal Bird Family of the week. Being as common as they are, the Icteridae family may seem rather “ordinary”; but beware, these birds are far more ghoulish than you may suspect. Consider the following birds as you take your dusty crow and raven decorations out of the basement. Whether you like your Halloween celebrations to be on the ghoulish side or prefer more cute type décor, there’s something for everyone here! I’m surprised marketers haven’t picked up on this already!

 Bird Family of the Week #4

10 Things to know about the Icteridae Family

#1. Who exactly are we dealing with here?

This family of small to medium sized birds consists of 98 New World Species found across North America, the Caribbean and Central America. As a group they are referred to as Blackbirds because European settlers were reminded of the Blackbird Turdus Merula back home when they first encountered the more black-plumaged members of the group. Nevertheless, they bear no relation to the Old World Blackbird.

#2. Is there anything to worry about closer to home?

The PQSPB checklist includes 10 species of this family: the Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Western Meadowlark, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole and the Baltimore Oriole.

#3. Anything else I should know about these supposedly “scary” birds?

All except the Yellow-headed Blackbird and the Rusty Blackbird breed in the checklist area.

#4. Where do they hide?

They are found in a range of habitats, including scrub, swamp, forest, savanna and urban areas. Temperate species are migratory, with many species that nest in the United States and Canada moving south into Mexico and Central America.

#5. Ok, so far you’re not scaring me – is this all just hype?

Believe it or not, the song of the Red-Winged Blackbird is a rather on the ghoulish side! In North American Native culture, the bird’s song in the Lakota language (spoken throughout much of the bird’s range), is described as tōke, mat’ā nī  (“oh! that I might die”).

#6. I really don’t like the creepy side of Halloween

If your Halloween style is more on the “cute” side, the Baltimore Oriole is your bird. Colour wise the male is ideal, handsomely attired in orange and black. It also loves sweets like orange halves and grape jelly.

#7. These birds can make you have scary thoughts!

Bobolinks, Meadowlarks and Rusty Blackbirds are all at risk of disappearing and may one day only be ghost birds of Halloween’s past if conservation efforts fail. Enough to give bird lovers everywhere nightmares, one should think! (I confess, that was a shameless attempt to get your attention!)


Illustration of the Brown-headed Cowbird from P. Taverner’s Birds of Eastern Canada 1921 edition.

#8. Look out! It’s the invasion of the Nest Snatchers!

The brood parasite among the bunch, the Brown headed Cowbird, lays its eggs into the nests of over 220 unsuspecting host bird species, some of which then rear the cowbird’s young along with its own. Or…. do they ? Unfortunately, the host’s own chicks may die as a result of the larger cowbird chick manipulating the attention of the parents while they are feeding the nestlings. The Cowbird chick may even throw its step-sibling out of the nest. There’s even more to this scary story. Doubting the Invasion of the Nest  Snatchers theory? Then consider this. Song Sparrow nestlings have been reported to imitate Cowbird chick vocal patterns so that parents think they’re all the same, and feed them equally. The Cowbird story is so scary it will require a complete post of its own coming soon!

#9. The Evil Wizard?

You’ve probably never thought of the Common Grackle as more than just, well, common. It is widely found across North America and locally is even a year-round resident. Sometimes we just don’t see what’s right in front of us. First of all, its Latin name, Quiscalus quiscula sounds like a spell right out of Harry Potter. Try it, say it out loud a few times: Quiscalus Quiscula! Quiscalus Quiscula! Coincidence? Secondly, it’s already dressed for Halloween with its iridescent purplish or bronze feathers, and oh those scary yellow eyes! Although it is unlikely known as one of those endearing Good Wizards. It will steal food from other birds, taking them by surprise as they rush forward and grab what they want, even if it means taking it right out of the beak of another bird! They’re considered pests across the continent, responsible for millions of dollars of damage to sprouting corn crops (Stephen King…Birds of the Corn anyone?). It is also a bit of a monster in bird terms, reportedly eating other birds’ eggs and nestlings, and on occasion, resorting to killing adult birds as well. Declining numbers may be attributed to population control measures.

#10. Creepy sounds in the dark

The Yellow-headed Blackbird, with a song described as sounding like a door swinging on a very rusty metal hinge, can this be anything but a Halloween themed bird?

Hope you are having a fun Halloween weekend so far! Beware…more Halloween-bird themed posts may be coming your way!