Birds of A Feather: The Flocking Part

Scroll to the end for how to get rid of flocking birds. Better living through technology…

But first, a remembered gathering of blackbirds in autumn, more than a decade ago…

Vox Populi

The house was chilly when I got home–cooler inside than out. A somber October sun only a few shades paler than sky offered little light, and less heat. I stepped into my rubber boots–a country-dweller’s slippers–for the short walk to the woodpile for an armload of kindling. A small fire through the glass doors of the woodstove would cheerify the dark afternoon, would take the edge off the damp-cold before Ann got home.

Standing in a fine mist, I zipped up my jacket on the stone walkway outside the back door, and breathed in the familiar smell of mid-autumn’s demise in a mulch of molding leaves. And then I heard it.

Truth is, the dog heard it first. His ears perked, suddenly alert. The unsettling commotion above us was not our repertoire of familiar country sounds; we put up our guard. It came from beyond the bare maples, from the near ridge behind the house.

From somewhere hidden in those young pine trees on the broken hillside came the anxious, ventriloquial voices of birds. Thousands of birds. Their angst filled the valley, louder even than the babble of the creeks.

Grackles, probably, maybe mixed with other blackbird kin–the loathsome, hapless starlings. But I could see not a one of them. Their invisibility only added to the eeriness of their thousand opinions: Listen to me! I have an idea! Let’s go that a’way! each one squeek-chirped to his incorporeal companions.

Rising, falling, they turned on their perches as each new spokesman, spokesbird, took the podium, a hundred giant rainsticks inverted over and over, tinkling waterdrop metallic voices that swelled just before they all took wing, became suddenly visible, followed the advice of the most insistent speaker; and they were gone from sight, then from sound only to rise and swirl and return to the same two trees out of hundreds of trees on the same ridge. Together, they vetoed their twentieth or twenty-first itinerary–undecided voters, uncertain of where or when, sure only that they must go, more or less south, more or less soon. And at once they flushed, and headed north.”

Excerpt From: Fred First. “Slow Road Home ~ a Blue Ridge Book of Days.”

â–º I am expecting, perhaps this week, to spot the first uneasiness among the corvids passing down our valley. In some places, starlings and grackles gather in huge, unwelcome flocks in trees of urban parks and suburban boulevards. Banging pots and Roman candles do little to roust them from their roosts.

But this sure works. Bird brains are not prepared for any response but avoidance of a moving light that might be a predator. Lasers are being used effectively to protect fruit and vegetable crops from bird damage.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Years ago, an innovative soul who lives in our condo, started pointing a red laser beam at the seagulls which gathered in droves on our condo roofs. Miraculously it worked, and the seagulls went elsewhere! We didn’t realize how he had managed to do that! Hnnn, now I have a better understanding! Thanks, Fred!

  2. Lovely excerpt from Slow Road.
    I remember the huge flocks of blackbirds when I visited my in-laws in Middle Tennessee. My mother-in-law had to use an umbrella to keep from getting bird poo all over her when she went for the mail.