The Poets’ Birds: Blackbirds

Meet Isoceles, the grackle with the triangular perch

 

Strictly speaking, this handsome bird is a grackle rather than a blackbird: specifically, a boat-tailed grackle (Quiscalus major). Often seen along the Gulf coast, it can be distinguished from the common grackle by its dark eyes; common grackles’ eyes tend to be a bright yellowish-gold.

Ogden Nash once wrote a humorous if not entirely complimentary little ditty for the grackle, but the stately demeanor of this bird seemed to demand something more. Wallace Stevens was able to describe “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and these four ways especially appeal to me:

 

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.   
II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.   
III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.   
V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.   

Comments always are welcome.

 

151 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Blackbirds

    1. The red-winged blackbirds don’t seem so willing to pose, but the grackles will hang around long enough for a portrait. They are elegant birds, although it can be a little Hitchcock-like when they gather by the hundreds at the local grocery stores.

    1. Thanks, Biff. I’m curious — do these grackles hang out in your area like they do down here? They’ll collect in huge numbers on the wires, or at grocery stores, or in the live oaks in certain neighborhoods. They’re especially fun when they show up at HEB, take up every available space, and then show off to one another for hours.

      1. Oh yes! We have the same phenomenon here. Grackles are omnipresent in relatively small numbers, but in the spring and fall they show up by the millions (presumably passing through on their way somewhere else). They will select certain intersections of main roads and take up residence there. Trees will be black with them. Every electric wire looks serrated because there is a grackle every 6 or 8 inches. And the noise! Oh my! True cacophony. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for them, for they have so much character and attitude.

        And yes, I love to watch them preening and showing off to one another. I will usually see 5 or 6 males all vying for the attention of a single female who could not possibly care less about their preening antics. It is really quite amusing! And I suppose humans are not so very different.

        1. You described it perfectly. Like you, I’m really fond of them, partly because of their insouciance. They’re especially funny when they’ve taken up residence on the luggage rack of an SUV and aren’t ready to move when the owner returns. I once saw a woman drive off with two of the birds still on top of her car’s roof. They didn’t last long, but they gave it a try.

          1. Ha ha! You’re right. They do seem quite fearless most of the time. “insouciant” describes them perfectly! That is one of the things that makes me admire them so much. They seem so care free and seem to have a sense of humor. Perhaps they are the only birds in existence with something akin to a sense of humor.

    1. That’s a good one, too — especially given grackles love of providing fanfares just so we know they’re around. I added just a little detail to the clue that might help. Of course, given the way my mind works sometimes, it’s possible no one will get it!

        1. The tails do fan out a bit, and you’re right that they can be beautiful in flight. When they really fan those tails is when they’re trying to impress the girls, or out-display a competitor — like this.

    1. Your comment made me laugh. Nash never was one for the sweet and saccharine — he wasn’t nasty, but he could hone in on negative qualities like nobody’s business. I do get a kick out of watching the males compete with one another in the spring; they’re great fun.

  1. Boat-tailed grackles always evoke that passage in Pogo (10ELBYP) where two of the bats were flying the other one as a kite. His suspenders broke, and all they got back was his trousers. The airborne bat landed in a grackle’s nest, crunched the egg, and the mother grackle was convinced the bat hatched out of the egg. There was an interesting passage where the mother grackle, having convinced herself there was no future in the grackle trade, consulted Captain Wimby’s Bird Atlas to find a suitable alternative species to train her offspring to become. Only Kelly would put a derby hat on a grackle (or a butterfly . . .).

    I could hear the memory of the cry of the redwing blackbird as I looked at your picture. Also the various “vocalizations” of the grackles, of which we have many hereabouts.

    No clue on the name. Sorry.

    I like Item II the best. — being of three minds. There’s a neat trick if you can do it.

    1. The bit from Pogo’s new to me. I always enjoy your recollections of those story lines, and really do need to go back and refresh my memory of others. We’ve agreed on this before, but I’ll say it again: it’s a shame Kelly’s not around now. He’d have some rich veins to mine.

      The call of the red-winged blackbirds are my favorites, but they can be a little hard to photograph, since they enjoy hanging out in the cattails and reeds, and can be easier to hear than see.

      I have a hard enough time when I’m of two minds over something, let alone three. Of course, I have a hard time imagining knitting while watching tv. I think you do the divided mind thing better than I do.

  2. One always learns something. I never even heard the word grackle. I first thought it was a verb. Perhaps a drawled-out southern one. ‘Watch it, or I’ll grackle you’.
    I now will use it to show off to my American friend next week when we are to meet up.

    We have very large crows here as black as a night without moon. They make a racket on our tin roof each morning after they have stolen some meaty chops from Harley next door. He feeds his dogs each morning and the crows know it. They carry the meat onto our roof and start to pick at it. Eventually the chops end up in the gutter where the birds can really get stuck into it.

    Our dog Milo is jealous.

    1. ‘Grackle’ is a wonderful word. The sounds they make are amusing, too — especially when two or more of the males are trying to outdo each other. As for being grackled, this might be the classic portrayal. It makes sense to me that you’d think the word a verb, since it’s so close to “cackle.”

      We have a few crows around, but not nearly so many. They can be bold, and I can only imagine the frustration of your neighbor’s dogs, not to mention Milo’s envy. Your comment made me wonder if our vultures carry away food that they’ve found to other locations, like their nest. It seems that they don’t; they prefer to feed wherever they’ve found some carrion.

      1. Before my aunt was too far gone into Alzheimer’s, I once mentioned grackles and she replied that she liked crackles.

        My experience with vultures matches your conjecture. At times when I’ve approached vultures to take pictures and have eventually gotten too close for their comfort, they’ve flown away and left their dead animal behind, even if was small enough that they could’ve taken it with them.

  3. The verses V and X11 are most appealing to me. Cannot fathom a name, but perhaps in the middle of the night it will fly in.
    As for the bird, it’s a beautiful creature, and your shot has done it justice.

    1. Look at the shape of the reeds, and then think geometry. That might help with the name.

      As for the poem, I’ve known it for some time; another reader introduced it to me three or even four years ago. I wasn’t so fond of it at the time, but now it seems more appealing. Perhaps it’s hanging around with blackbirds that’s opened up the poem for me. They are beautiful creatures, and amusing, which always is a plus.

  4. We don’t have grackles here, and like Gerard, I had never heard of them. One of the pleasures of blogging is learning about so many new plants or animals. Your grackle is a handsome shiny fellow, and I hope he’s a nicer bird than our Australian ravens which seem to do a lot of hanging around road kill.

    1. Our black vultures and turkey vultures do the job of your ravens. There’s nothing especially pleasant about carrion eaters, but we’d be in a real mess without them: both literally and figuratively. It’s wonderful that nature has provided for ways to clean up the inevitable detritus that comes with death, accidental or otherwise.

      The grackles, on the other hand, will eat everything from crawfish to grain in the fields. They can be pests around bird feeders, since they can clean one out in hours. Search online for grackles, and you’ll find article after article titled something like, “How to get rid of bird bullies.” They’re like feathered vacuum cleaners.

      1. I love it when the Blackbird hordes (Starlings, Red-Wings and Grackles) do a search grid across the lawn for white grubs and other juicy morsels… Another sure sign that Spring has arrived: )
        Have you ever watched Starlings in their mass flight drills, while gathering for exodus? Like watching a school of sardines: )

  5. I enjoyed the four elements you gleaned from Wallace Stevens, Linda. I love grackles and their vocal existence, and the boat-tailed, when the tail is spread out, are especially engaging.

    1. They’re great fun to watch. In this area, they enjoy hanging around boats and nesting in marina palm trees, so they offer a good deal of entertainment while I’m working. It’s especially fun when the fledglings are around, as large as their parents but still demanding to be fed. The racket that occurs when mom and dad refuse to feed is considerable.

  6. “Just after” definitely.
    Love Grackles, funnily (sadly) enough, now that you have them, we do not and already I look forward to hearing their song once again because I’ll know that Winter is over and Spring has truly (finally!) arrived.

    1. “Just after,” it can seem as though other birds are pausing to listen, too.

      We’re experiencing an in-between time just now. Many of our summer birds have flown off, and the influx of winter birds is just beginning. Even my bluejays are keeping a low profile; the acorn crop is good, so they don’t need to stop by for peanuts. By December, it should be quite a different scene: or so I hope. I’ve missed the winter birds, and will be glad to have them back.

    1. Isn’t he, though? I just did a quick browse through some of his work, and discovered that a ditty I remember from childhood actually was one of his poems. I’ll bet you remember this one, too. It made me laugh out loud.

      A flea and a fly in a flue
      Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
      Said the fly, “let us flee!”
      “Let us fly!” said the flea.
      So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

  7. The common yellow-eyed grackles come each spring in hordes to eastern Iowa. I usually take in the bird feeders for a couple few days as they raid and pillage them all. The poor smaller birds get pushed aside. Then they move on to the north. In the fall, they come back south but are not nearly such a nuisance.

    1. The grackles certainly can empty a feeder lickety-split — not to mention what they can do to a field of grain. They’re omnivores extraordinaire: no question about that. It’s interesting that their behavior differs between the season. My guess would be that in the spring they’re making up for winter, and just are hungrier.

  8. What? Has no one ventured isosceles? If the bird’s a male, you might also call him Reed.

    Once again we’re on the same wavelength because I have a picture of a black bird scheduled for tomorrow.

    1. Bingo! Isosceles it is. Those triangles demanded it.

      Between the maximilian sunflowers and goldenrod, our areas really do seem to be in synch. I suspect your yaupon berries are ripening, too. The tree I hoped would bear this year is absolutely loaded, and for once I got there before the birds did.

  9. The purist in me says that the consonants in isosceles don’t match up with those in Aristophanes (except for the final s), but the two words are both Greek and have matching rhythms, so why not give the rhyme a pass? Ogden Nash did stranger things.

    Yes, the little yaupon fruits are ripening here, including the now-not-so-green ones right outside my window as I type this. I suspect that before long you’ll be featuring the one you photographed.

    1. Nash certainly could write the odd verse, in every sense of the word. I browsed through some of his poems this morning and was surprised to find a few I’d always assumed to be anonymous.

      The first name that came to mind for the bird was ‘Euclid,’ but that seemed clunky. Then, looking at the triangles, ‘isoceles’ came to mind, and having that word pop into my mind was reason enough to use it.

    1. And their size contributes to their striking appearance. The profile view’s generally best for these birds, since they don’t have the color variations that common grackles show; the common are more iridescent, and have various shades of purple and deep blue. I’m glad you liked the photo!

  10. I get grackles or blackbirds—can’t tell the difference—twice a year and they empty out my bird feeder in a day. I can’t talk myself into embracing these greedy birds. Thankfully, when they stop they are on their way to greener pastures, so to speak. But isn’t it amazing how they can stay so shiny, black living out in the elements.

    1. From what Jim said in his comment, his Iowa grackles might be the ones who show up at your feeder. They obviously share the same kind of appetite. I’ve seen them in maize fields, really doing a number on the grain.

      You’re right about their shiny, immaculate appearance. I’ve thought the same thing about our pure white birds, like the egrets. I have read that when they’re not eating, they’re preening, so I suppose that helps to explain that.

  11. I like the various black birds, especially crows, among the smartest of birds. But like a lot of my relatives at family gatherings, it would just be better if they didn’t climb up on things and sing.
    A few years ago, Auburn, a small city near Syracuse, had 63,000 crows living there during the winter, more than twice the human population. When you get a few treetops full of crows or grackles, their metallic croaking sound is ok, and I really like the redwing blackbirds’ little song, but 63k croaks is a lot!
    I was thinking about those Greek names, and they reminded me of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, with the old Greek dude, Socrates.

    1. Oh — you mean So-crates! I’ve seen snippets from the film, but never the whole thing. If it’s as good as Back to the Future, it would be worth a look.

      I don’t know how many grackles congregate at our local grocery, but it might be a couple of thousand. Maybe more.Their racket’s unbelievable; I can’t imagine what it was like in Auburn.I found this great audio and transcript that describes the town’s attempts to rid themselves of the birds. As you might imagine, it was complicated, but it worked to a degree, and at least for a time.

      I’m rather fond of the sound of the birds roosting, but I wouldn’t be at all pleased to have to carry an umbrella to protect myself against their droppings. My goodness — what a mess.

          1. When they started chasing them out of Auburn, 1,000’s of them just moved 10-15 miles west to Geneva. For some reason, they mostly passed by Waterloo, which is in between. Maybe we looked like slim pickings

  12. I love your grackle and I enjoy them muchly around here too!! When I take a picture of one in a natural setting I think they look so interesting and iridescence to die for. But, then a lot of people consider them nuisance birds when they congregate around the grocery stores and hang out in parking lots. But, nuisance or not, the boat-tailed grackle will fascinate endlessly if you watch it step about in the sunlight.

    1. It just occurred to me that, for some people, grackles, sparrows, pigeons, and such are the weeds of the bird world. They’re common, and they’re often regarded as a nuisance despite their fine qualities. I do love the sheen of the grackles. Watching the colors shift in the sunlight is delightful, especially since they seem less skittish than some birds, and more willing to pose and preen — they’ll give us a chance to admire them.

    1. That sounds like the kind of teasing that squirrels like to do. Every now and then, when a neighbor’s walking her beagle, the dog will catch the scent of a squirrel and it’s game on. The squirrel creeps down the palm tree while the dog goes crazy and then, just when the (leashed) beagle makes a desperate attempt at the squirrel, the critter darts just out of range and chatters at the dog. It’s great fun to watch, as I’m sure your little dog-grackle competition is.

  13. Isosceles came mind, given the positioning of the reeds with him in it. Then I read the comments and saw that someone (Steve?) already got it. I do love blackbirds, especially yellow-headed (which we rarely get here), and the ones already used to humans are the best for portraiture. Yours is quite the poser!

    1. And we have a winner! That’s just what I had in mind. When I saw the triangles the reeds had formed, I couldn’t resist.

      I’ve never heard of the yellow-headed blackbird, but I was mightily impressed when I looked it up. That’s quite a striking bird — really handsome. I laughed at this, from the Audubon site: “The male Yellow-headed Blackbird is impressive to see, but not to hear: it may have the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping.” I didn’t think the recordings in the Macaulay Library were so awful. In fact, there were little hints here and there of meadowlarks, and red-winged blackbirds.

      I did see something last weekend along Hoskins Mound Road, just past Chocolate Bayou — a group of about eighteen scissortail flycatchers sitting on wires. I suppose they were in migration; it was quite a sight to see.

  14. I can’t begin to guess the name but it’s a wonderful photo. I see blackbirds/grackles all the time up north and some here, too. But they are rarely still enough for a good capture!

    1. I laughed when you said that you see the blackbirds “up north.” From my perspective, you’re pretty far north yourself, and yet even for you there are more northerly places.

      His name is Isoceles. When I saw how the broken reeds formed triangles, Euclid and geometry and all that came to mind. I confess: I had to refresh myself on isoceles trianges to be sure the name would work, but it did. Clearly, I have a bit of a strange mind!

  15. Hypotenuse, maybe, except it doesn’t quite rhyme…
    Very sleek bird. Are its eyes black or do they just look that way in the photo?
    Our blackbirds are jet black but rarely shiny and they have a bright yellow (sometimes nearly orange) beak. I don’t think we have grackles here.

    1. But oh, so close! I named him Isoceles, because of the triangular shape of the reeds — which you picked up on.

      His eyes are black, but the color can vary. The Cornell site says, “Boat-tailed Grackles have variable eye color: along the Atlantic Coast it is yellow, in Florida it is brown, along the eastern Gulf Coast it is yellowish, and along the western Gulf Coast it is brown.” Other sites say the Gulf coast version has black eyes, which is what I see when I look at them.

      I like the all-black color scheme, but a bright yellow bill certainly would add a little pizzazz to the bird.

      1. Ah – I’d forgotten about Isoceles. (I have dyscalculia but seem to remember a bit of geometry from long, long ago.)

        I’ve often wondered why blackbirds have yellow beaks, what made them evolve that way. There’s very little in their environment that would warrant it, so maybe it’s a male to male rivalry bargaining tool, or maybe the females can’t resist a nice bright bill. Your grackle might be onto a good thing if he adopted a yellow beak. :)

        1. I didn’t start ‘seeing’ anything in the world mathematically until very recently. That’s one reason it tickled me so that the triangles jumped right out at me.

          A yellow beak would be spiffy. Given the ability of female grackles to ignore the males’ showing off during mating season, it couldn’t hurt.

    1. They have such personality — all of them. I don’t remember you mentioning them in your garden. Do they come to the water there? You may not put out the kind of seed they enjoy, since you have so many plants that cater more to the pollinators and small seed eaters. One thing is certain; when the grackles are around, everyone knows.

        1. That article from Texas Monthly that you linked in your post is a classic. I’ve read it a couple of times — it’s hard to avoid finding it when looking up information on Texas grackles. I laughed at your poor, molting birdie, too. The first time I saw a blue jay in the process of molting, I was sure he’d be dead within the hour. But, no. They’re just ugly — and you’re right that the cardinals could compete in the ugliest-bird-while-molting category!

    1. They are intelligent birds: much like crows. Many years ago, we made friends with one who was hanging around the boat. Over time, he finally started taking bread from my hand, and over more time, we established quite a routine: he’d come down into the boat in the morning to get his bit of toast. He preferred it plain, but would accept it with butter.

    1. Well, don’t forget that Stevens was writing about blackbirds, and Nash about grackles. I thought about posting only the entirely apropos Nash, but I decided grackles, like dandelions, deserve a word of non-snarky praise once in a while. Not always, mind you, but occasionally.

    1. Names are more often metaphors or poetic allusions than a reportage of scientific fact: which is to say, if the Zappas can name a baby Moon Unit, I get to name this little dude Isoceles!

        1. Actually, I pondered that very question, but there’s no way to answer it. Because I didn’t realize at the time that the triangles were part of the photo, I don’t have a clue whether there were two equal sides. I suspect not, nature being what nature is, but by now the bird has flown and the reeds have probably broken down, so we’ll never know.

  16. Blackbirds have always been one of my favourite birds (maybe because of the Beatles song?). The boat-tailed grackle is quite different from the one we have in Norway, which has a beautiful song, that always brings me into some kind of summer mood. The poem by Ogden Nash is great.

    1. It’s so funny — the Beatles’ song didn’t come to mind until well after I’d written this, but it would have made a good addition. It’s a great song, no doubt about that.

      It’s the mockingbird and robin that bring a summer feeling for me, but I certainly understand how your blackbirds could do the same. The sights, sounds, and smells of our home and home countries never leave us.

  17. Oh it has to be number 5, Linda! That’s poetry. I remember my first wife thought I was pulling her leg when I told her she was looking at a boat tailed grackle. She couldn’t imagine a bird with such a name. –Curt

    1. I like that fifth one too, Curt. For some reason, it reminded me of the column that runs in The New Yorker magazine, called “Shouts and Murmurs.” A murmur beats a shout every time.

      ‘Boat-tailed grackle’ is an odd name. I’ve never been able to figure out the connection with boats. I’ve wondered whether the bird was named after boats with fantails. Or it may be that fantails and boat-tailed grackles both were named after the spreading of a fan. I’m sure there’s an answer somewhere, but the good news is we don’t need an explanation to enjoy the bird!

  18. Grackles are everywhere down here too. We have two bird baths in the back yard and the male grackles love to splash away and can quickly deplete the water. They are quite beautiful and rather silly when they lose their tail feathers. Great shot!

    1. Any bird that’s molting is reason for laughter. They seem so awkward and embarassed when it happens. I often see them bathing down at the refuges in the summer, and they can put up splashes that rival anything a larger bird can do. You’re lucky to have them at your bird baths. I can imagine how entertaining that is.

      I was pleased with the photo, too. They seem to love being in the spotlight.

    1. Thanks, Derrick. I couldn’t decide between the poems, and I’m glad I included both. As for Isoceles, he’s quite a spiffy bird, and still makes me smile when I see his photo.

  19. I love grackles, and their black feathers used to pick up a sort of iridescence, but that was quite some years ago when I first saw them in Florida. The ones in P.R. are from another genus.

    1. I always enjoy seeing them when they have their fresh, new feathers. They seem especially iridescent and beautiful then; sometimes it seems as if they know it, given their strutting around. I looked at a couple of very short videos of the grackles in Puerto Rico, and it amused me to see how similar their behavior is.

      1. They’re cousins, the Caribbean one is called ‘Quiscalus niger’, which turns an iridescent black-blue when the sun hits it. Quiscalus major also has it. Although I had read it in the past but had to double check: ‘quiscalus’ means in new Latin, probably from Medieval Latin ‘quiscula’ (“a quail”), and ‘quail’ comes from Middle English: from Old French ‘quaille’, from medieval Latin coacula (probably imitative of its call). I checked on a quail’s call and indeed they are similar, but on a superficial level. They are totally unrelated, but have an extensive repertoire of vocalizations:(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSz5TpJR1Vw)

        1. I found myself wondering if ‘quail’ used as a verb was similarly rooted — perhaps in the bird’s behavior — but in fact it has other roots. I just was listening to an interesting discussion about the various quail calls on a radio program I enjoy; it’s quail hunting season now, but not every species can be hunted, so being able to distinguish birds is important.

          I thought of you yesterday when I found this story about a Florida wildflower painter. It’s interesting that being “lost” helped to preserve her work.

    1. I like the calls of grackles, too. They have a remarkable vocabulary, and even when they’re fussing, the sound isn’t unpleasant. I enjoy the red-winged blackbird, too, but it’s harder to photograph: partly because it seems to prefer hiding itself in the midst of the reeds.

      Speaking of what’s lurking in the reeds, Nash wrote one about the alligator, too. His titles often provide a clue to his intent; this one’s called “The Purist,” and it makes me laugh every time I come across it.

      I give you now Professor Twist,
      A conscientious scientist,
      Trustees exclaimed, “He never bungles!”
      And sent him off to distant jungles.
      Camped on a tropic riverside,
      One day he missed his loving bride.
      She had, the guide informed him later,
      Been eaten by an alligator.
      Professor Twist could not but smile.
      “You mean,” he said, “a crocodile.

      1. Okay Linda, you’ve given me some homework. You seem to use the names grackle and blackbird as if they could be interchanged… but I think they are two different birds… the red-winged blackbird is something I’ve not yet encountered, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around here. Could be I just didn’t see them. I’ll have to find out more about that. And then Ogden Nash. I saw some of his verses when visiting America (a long time ago), and wasn’t much impressed at the time. Now after reading this about the crocodile, I think I wasn’t emotionally ready for what he had to offer.

        1. As a common name, ‘blackbird’ often is used for a variety of species: grackles, crows, cowbirds, and actual blackbirds. On the other hand, some birds that are listed as part of the blackbird group are only trimmed in a little black, and don’t obviously belong. It’s interesting, confusing, and leads to discussions like, “Just which four-and-twenty blackbirds were baked in that pie?”

          Now that I think about it, that Mother Goose verse has a bit of Ogden Nash to it. His sardonic tone was more common during the 1940s than it is now. I have a book edited by Louis Untermeyer titled A Treasury of Laughter, described on its title page as “Consisting of Humorous Stories, Poems, Essays, Tall Tales, Jokes, Boners, Epigrams, Memorable Quips, and Devastating Crushers.”
          A copy lived on my parents’s bookshelf, and I read from it regularly. Now I have my own copy, and I still dip into it like a bottle of tonic.

          Of course the well known are there — Lewis Carroll, S.J. Perelman, P.G. Wodehouse, and Ogden Nash — but some of the lesser-knowns whose works are included are just as funny. I grew up hearing and telling ‘Little Willie’ jokes from the book. They probably wouldn’t pass muster today. It’s too bad. They didn’t damage us, and they taught us a good bit about the complexities of the world and how to approach them.

          1. mmmm, the dangers of transcending from one language to another… I thought I knew what a blackbird was… having found the name in translation. Now looking further, I realize that there are many points of view, and that what I thought was a grackle might not have been, since the grackle seems to be a bird found primarily in north and south America. All very interesting, but more information than I needed for a bird who usually comes to parties in black. Moreover, your mention of Louis Untermeyer hit a nerve. I had a strong feeling I had heard of him, but couldn’t imagine where and when. Then I remembered (I think) that Arthur Miller discussed him in his autobiography… I did check out you link to ‘Little Willie’ though, and found the jokes were not at all risque.

            1. I realized I didn’t know much about Untermeyer, so I looked him up and found this interesting short bio. This made me smile: “Martin Weil related in the Washington Post that Untermeyer once described himself as a bone collector with the mind of a magpie.”

              The article also mentions his friendship with Arthur Miller, and notes that he left urban life for the country:

              “He once told Contemporary Authors: “I live on an abandoned farm in Connecticut … ever since I found my native New York unlivable as well as unlovable.”

              “On these green and sometimes arctic acres I cultivate whatever flowers insist on growing in spite of my neglect; delight in the accumulation of chickadees, juncos, cardinals, and the widest possible variety of songless sparrows; grow old along with three pampered cats and one spoiled cairn terrier; season my love of home with the spice of annual travel, chiefly to such musical centers as Vienna, Salzburg, Milan, and London; and am always happy to be home again.”

              And I’ve found that some of his own poetry is wonderful.

    1. The blackbirds I’ve known (especially the red-winged) seem to prefer open country, while the grackles sometimes seem intent on taking over the urban areas and holding them hostage for grain! They’re all fun, and almost every poet seems to have at least one bird poem. I’m glad you enjoyed these.

    1. Can you believe I’d never heard of Torchy’s Tacos? I assumed it was an inside the loop phenomenon, but I discovered there’s one not so far away, in Webster. It’s in an area I get to from time to time. I’ll have to swing by and do a grackle count!

    1. They always remind me of rusty gates, or bad brakes, or unearthly sounds from grade B sci-fi movies. But you know when they’re around, and they’re more than willing to pose for a camera. Still, that silence once they’re done announcing themselves can be pretty nice.

      Thanks for the kind words about the photo. I do have fun photographing birds.

    1. It’s my version of the photographers’ rule of thirds: combine image, words, and title properly, and it really works. I do love the grackles. Like so many larger birds, they seem more confident of their place in the world, and often ‘pose’ in places that makes them easy to photograph. The broken reeds were a plus!

      1. That one did pose perfectly. My memory of them is from visiting my grandparents in GA in spring and hearing their raucous calls….and around a swimming pool they would go for potato chips people dropped. Very alert to every opportunity! :-)

        1. The only bird I’ve ever seen beat a grackle to a chip — or a bit of hotdog bun, or whatever — is a seagull. The rest of the feathery community seems like a bunch of sluggards compared to those opportunistic feeders.

  20. That is such a tantalizing poem. One could spend a long time playing off each of the stanzas.(I recall trying this in a short story form. Not so memorable, though the exercise was fun.) You’ve certainly chosen 4 with incredible resonances. Here are a couple more I like particularly, too:

    VIII
    I know noble accents
    And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
    But I know, too,
    That the blackbird is involved
    In what I know.

    XIII
    It was evening all afternoon.
    It was snowing
    And it was going to snow.
    The blackbird sat
    In the cedar-limbs.

    1. I wouldn’t have known about the Stevens poem had you not mentioned it at some time. When I first read it, I wasn’t so impressed, but over time I’ve come to really appreciate it. I like your two selections, too. “It was evening all afternoon” is such a perfect line: I suspect everyone recognizes the phenomenon immediately, even if they’ve not given words to it.

      We don’t have snow, but we do have cedars, and I once saw this blackbird sitting in the salt cedar limbs.

  21. When I think of blackbirds a always think of the old nursery rhyme:

    Sing a song of sixpence,
    A pocket full of rye.
    Four and twenty blackbirds,
    Baked in a pie.

    1. Of course I remember that. I wondered if blackbird pie was a thing, and it seems that it was — only not quite like I’d thought. A chef who must be well-known to some people, Steven Raichlen, recounted this little story: in his own words:

      “I began my year’s research knowing about a handful of medieval cookbooks, and 10 months later I had found over 100. In one I found a recipe for how to bake live songbirds in a pie shell. You know we have a nursery rhyme, ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie’ — well, that was really something people did back then.”

      “You made an enormous pie crust that had a wooden scaffolding inside, so it was, in effect, baked hollow. Then you cut a trapdoor in the bottom, you put live birds in the pie, cracked open the top when it was served, and the birds would come fluttering out through the dining room. This was the sort of thing that medieval diners loved!”

      The short article’s here. Think we should try it for Thanksgiving?

        1. It’s a combination of curiosity, a tendency to think relatively quirky thoughts, and a developing ability to use search engines. In this instance, after reading Cheryl’s comment, it occurred to me to wonder whether people ever baked blackbirds in pies — and if so, which birds they used. I went to google and searched using something like “did people ever bake blackbirds in pies?” Voila! The article I linked to was on about the second page of search returns, after a page filled with references to the nursery rhyme. It’s no more mysterious than that.

          Now I wonder whether bakers had to have those scaffold-building skills, or whether there was an occupation called “pie carpenter” — but I’ll leave that alone for now!

    1. I suspect Isoceles is off his perch and down into the reeds tonight — it’s windy, and raw, and honest-to-goodness cold is coming. I know the birds are well insulated, and for them this is hardly a challenge. But winter’s coming, and I’m glad to have captured him enjoying autumn.

  22. Here the Grackle’s tend to congregate in cities and suburbs, while the Brewer’s and Red-wing blackbirds are seen mostly in rural and country settings. The pecan orchard is a great place to observe the Brewer’s, but I see the Red-wing’s more in our pasture and yard. This time of year though, the American crow seems to be the prevalent species of the woodlands. I love their loud cawing, which is magnified in the old orchard. Even the vultures have returned… it’s a lovely sea of black we see this time of year with so many black wings flying overhead!

    1. That’s the division here, too. I suspect it has to do with the fact that grackles are omnivores, while (I think) the red-winged blackbirds (and maybe the Brewer’s) prefer grain and seeds. I know that when I was growing up in Iowa, the red-winged blackbirds always were in the corn and maize fields. Down here, I see them in the marshes, plucking seeds from cattails and such.

      I don’t see many crows, although they certainly do make their presence known when they’re around. They’re so smart, and so interesting. And like you, I’m a fan of the vultures. They’re such an important part of the environment — people who don’t like to see carcasses lying about should give thanks for them!

    1. I’ve always thought of them as assertive. They certainly do make their presence known, and they’re some of the best thieves in the world. This past weekend, I saw a great grackle down at the same slough; they have different eye color than the boat-tailed, and are more iridescent. Even with the cloudy day, he was noticeably shinier than this one.

      1. And that is saying a lot~ I know the boat-tailed to be quite iridescent. They used to dive-bomb our beloved cat, earning my lifelong enmity. Of course today I wouldn’t let a cat be outside, but those were different days. Nearly 50 years ago!

        1. Outdoor cats on a farm are a good thing, just for rodent control. Outdoor cats in the suburbs and cities are something else. The coyotes are keeping the feral cats under control here now, but of course that raises some other issues.

          1. I remember when cats and dogs were tossed outdoors at bedtime. Hard to imagine that now. When my puppy was new I worried about the hawks, owls foxes and coyotes we have in the neighborhood. I’m still watchful about the red tailed hawk, and I’ve heard that coyotes will even take a small dog when it is on a leash! So I’m watchful out on the trails, too. That is new for me as I’ve always had shepherds before.

            1. Around here, the signs along certain trails advise not walking pets near the water because of alligators. It’s always something. I’ve never heard of coyotes taking a leashed animal, but that doesn’t mean one wouldn’t be willing to give it a try if it was hungry enough.

  23. Both of us here were delighted to see your tribute to both a poet and a poem that are icons in this house. No group of blackbirds fails to evoke at least one way of looking at them, per the astounding Mr. Stevens.

    1. It took me some years to warm up to both Stevens and William Carlos Williams, but, one by one, their poems have begun to appeal. I understand why many people would prefer the Nash approach to the grackle, but it pleases me to find others, like you, who appreciate Stevens.

      1. Mr. Stevens daunts me. I’d need to devote several months to study before I could say I even “appreciate” him, so I stand slightly awestruck by his work. I’m delighted to discover another acolyte.

        1. I spent too much time just now looking for the parody of William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just To Say” that was making the rounds after Anthony Scaramucci was fired as White House Communications Director. I couldn’t find it, but I did find about a hundred variations. What Williams would think of his poem becoming a meme I can’t say, but I think he would like modern efforts like this:

          I have closed
          the tabs
          that were in
          the browser

          and which
          you were probably
          saving
          to read

          Forgive me
          they hogged memory
          and were
          so old

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