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.