Birds signal summer passing

For me, however, the actions of birds are the most conspicuous and the most enjoyable signs of the changing season. The barn swallows that made a nest of droplets of mud on a beam of our barn, for example, and raised two broods in that nest no longer fly in and out of the barn. I still see barn swallows during the day, flying over our pasture and our marsh, perching on the power line by the road but no longer do they chitter at me when I go to feed the horses.

The mail red-winged blackbirds that partitioned the area of our marsh early in the spring, then perched conspicuously on the  cattails or the branches of willows around the edge of the marsh through much of the day, calling, proclaiming their territories, have left their territories. They’ve joined together in flocks with other males and during the day they drift about the countryside, alternately feeding and resting. At night these birds that wouldn’t allow another male near them a month ago roost together, often with only inches between them.

Female redwings are also in flocks but not the same flocks as the males. From the time their nesting season ends until mating and nesting begins again next spring they shun the company of the males. As a graduate student I studied red-winged blackbirds, trapping them in mist nest as they were flying in to roosts at dusk in summer and fall, then banding and releasing them. In roosts where I caught males I caught nearly all males, 96 percent males, and in roosts where I caught females I caught 98 percent females.

Days are still long and often hot but nights are cool. Change is in the air. Summer is passing. Plants are indicating the change by their appearance but birds are alerting us by their actions. Which would you rather look at, yellowing grass, changing wildflowers, coloring leaves on trees and shrubs and vines, nuts falling from the trees or would you rather watch flocks of robins and barn swallows, red-winged blackbirds and grackles and other birds?

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