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  BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS
(Scolecophagus cyanocephalus)


THE MALE BREWER INSPECTING THE NEST

BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS nest in good numbers in Strawberry Valley in the Wasatch Mountains. The male Brewer is a shiny black, with a purplish sheen on the head; the female brownish, more or less streaked. The calls and song of this species resemble those of the bronzed grackles, though lower and less forceful. While the male Brewer does not have the wedge-shaped tail and the female grackle is darker, in other respects, including their habits, the two species are much alike.

As I was walking around the south end of Strawberry Valley one afternoon early in June, I noticed a number of Brewer's blackbirds near the shore. As I approached, they let me know with unmistakable vehemence that I was trespassing. From a good viewpoint on a knoll, I had soon located a nest in the sagebrush. Later I found several of their nests tucked low down among the thickly growing willows along a near-by creek. The nest in the sagebrush proved to have five young about four days old, and, setting up the camera, I prepared to spend the afternoon there. My presence ten yards from their nest was too close to suit the much disturbed birds. For an hour or so, they circled round me, scolding vociferously. But finally the male got up courage to approach and feed the young, and during the afternoon he fed them several times, while his shyer mate remained around complaining, without making a single trip away or visiting the nest. She did, however, dart up constantly after flies until she had gathered such a billful, that it was a puzzle, indeed, to see how she could hold those in her bill while catching others, and at the same time continue to scold. At last, late in the afternoon, she made one hasty visit to the nest and disposed of her accumulated supplies. In removing the excreta, the male was once or twice observed to light on a distant perch, there drop his burden, and carefully wipe his beak.



THE FEMALE BREWER BLACKBIRD, WITH A BILL FULL OF FLIES, OBSERVING THE
YOUNG ATTENTIVELY BEFORE FEEDING THEM


IF THE FOOD THRUST INTO THE BEAK OF A YOUNG BIRD IS NOT SWALLOWED IMMEDIATELY,
IT IS REMOVED AND OFFERED TO ANOTHER

I made these birds another call the following morning, and by noon both were sufficiently accustomed to the camera to come and go with little hesitation. They seemed to find an abundance of food down by the creek, but often searched for grubs and insects in the sagebrush near by, and also made an occasional long trip over the hills: The food secured in different places no doubt met the need of a varied diet. The male was the really industrious one of the two, probably because my presence disturbed him less. Sailing down to the creek on gracefully curved pinions, he was always back within two or three minutes with a white grub or worm, which he sometimes thrust into all five gaping mouths, until he found a recipient hungry enough to swallow it immediately.

I always attempted to change films while the birds were away, but being still distrustful of me they would often hurry back prematurely. If they found me quietly seated, after circling around, they would leave but if they caught me in the act a disturbance ensued. Neighboring birds joined in and all voiced loudly their fears of an impending calamity.

After young Brewers leave the nest, they follow the adults around for weeks. It is a curious sight to watch these overgrown youngsters begging as they trail at an awkward gait after their parents, which striding proudly on, reward the young occasionally with a worm or an insect.


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