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Yellow-headed Blackbird - February 21, 2004

Yellow-headed Blackbird near Bethel, Lancaster County, PA

This yellow-headed blackbird was one of two adult males discovered associating with a flock of nearly 200,000 red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds.  We observed one of the two birds on three separate occasions from as close a range as 150 feet, as the flock ranged around the general area southeast of the town of Bethel (which is on Rt. 222).  This is the same general flock of blackbirds that has been reported in previous years, from which a yellow-headed blackbird was reported as recently as February 2003.
 
This was the first time I observed this particular flock of blackbirds, and without a doubt it is one of the most impressive avian spectacles I have ever witnessed.  The flock we first encountered had perhaps 30,000 birds, and as the day wore on, more and more blackbirds joined, to the point where it had grown five or six times larger.  It was still growing as we left the area around midday, and at that time it was being joined by another large group of several thousand.  I had heard stories about this phenomenon and thought I knew what to expect, but when we left the flock was already much bigger than I ever thought it would be, and yet was probably only one-fifth what it might have become if we stayed and tracked it all day.  Seeing 150,000 red-winged blackbirds rise from a field and move in unison, turning and twisting in a torrent of black and red, is something not easily forgotten.  I would recommend to anyone who loves birds to witness this event once in your life, even if you don't turn up a yellow-headed.
 
Even though we were as close as 150 feet to the most exciting bird in the flock, that view was, sadly, rather brief, and the pictures below were instead taken from a range of at least 400 yards.  I found myself at the very limit of magnification, fighting a thirty MPH wind, to produce these pictures.  Patience would certainly yield a much better photo, or, failing that, at least a chance to simply sit and study what is likely the greatest avian show in the state.

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Photos by Geoff Malosh

Unless explicitly indicated otherwise in the photo caption, all photos on this website were taken by and are 2003-2013 by Geoff Malosh. Unauthorized usage of these photographs for any purpose is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in using any photo for publication or if you are interested in obtaining a print, contact me at pomarine -AT- earthlink -DOT- net.