Blackbird. I. A European species of the thrush family (turdus merula, Linn.), called also merle in France and some parts of England. The plumage is full, soft, and glossy; the length in the male is 10 3/4-inches, and the extent of wings 16 inches; the length in the female is 10 inches, and the extent of wings 15 inches. In the adult male the bill is five sixths of an inch long, and of a bright orange color, as are the mouth, tongue, and margins of the lids, the iris hazel, the feet and claws dusky brown, the heel and soles yellow; the general color of the plumage is deep black, sometimes slightly tinged with brown; the primaries are lighter, and obscurely edged with brown; the central part of the hidden portion of each feather is light gray. In the female, the bill is dark brown; the general color of the plumage is deep brown above, lighter beneath; the throat and fore neck pale brown, streaked with darker triangular spots. The young are dusky brown above, with dull yellowish streaks; pale yellowish brown, spotted with dusky, beneath. Albino specimens are occasionally seen. The blackbird is an admirable singer, its notes, though simple, being loud, rich, and mellow, most frequently heard in the morning and evening.
It prefers cultivated districts, in winter frequenting the neighborhood of houses, and keeping in the shelter of the garden hedges. Its food consists of snails, seeds of grasses and grain, insects, larvae, worms, berries of various kinds, and also fruits. It is a very shy and active bird, hopping on the ground with tail raised and wings loose; its flight along the hedges is fitful and wavering, but in an open field very steady and sustained. It is not gregarious, more than three or four being seldom seen together. The blackbird pairs in early spring, making a nest externally of grass stalks, twigs, fibrous roots, and mosses, the inside being lined with mud and afterward with dry grass; the nest is usually placed in a hedge, bramble thicket, or bushy pine. The eggs are from four to six in number, of a pale bluish green, spotted with pale umber. The female sits 13 days, the male singing till the young are hatched; two broods are commonly reared, one in May, the second in July. The flesh is excellent for food. The blackbird is often kept in cages, where its song is as joyous as in its native haunts; it is a troublesome species in an aviary, as it pursues and harasses other birds; in confinement it will eat crumbs and raw or cooked flesh.
II. A bird more commonly called in New England red-winged blackbird, and belonging to the family of sturnidae (agelaius phceniceus, Linn.). The bill is straight, strong, conical, and black; the hind toe and claw the stronger. The plumage of the adult male is glossy black, except the smaller wing coverts, the first row of which are cream-colored, the rest scarlet; the length is 9 inches, extent of wings 14 inches. The female is nearly 2 inches less; the upper part black, the feathers with a pale brown margin, underneath streaked with black and dull white; a band of pale brown over the eye, and some of the smaller wing coverts slightly tinged with red. According to Nut-tall, this bird is found during the summer over the whole of North America from Nova Scotia to Mexico. It arrives in New York and New England about the 1st of April, preferring swamps, meadows, and low situations; at this season it lives on insects and grubs, afterward on the young and tender corn. It begins to build its nest early in May, on an alder bush or tuft of grass in some marsh or meadow; the eggs, from three to six, are white, tinged with blue, with faint purple marks. These birds congregate in such numbers in a very small space, that great havoc may be made at a single discharge of a gun.
The flight is usually even; on the wing the brilliant scarlet of the coverts contrasts finely with the black of the general plumage. Some of its notes are agreeable to the ear. In August, when the young are ready to associate in flocks, they do considerable mischief to the Indian corn; they are then killed in abundance, and are very good eating. Such is their confidence in man, in spite of his persecutions, that when fired upon they only remove from one part of a field to another. III. The name blackbird is given in the northwestern states and Canada to the rusty grakle (scolecophagus ferrvgineus, Wils.), and in other parts of the country to the purple grakle (quiscalus versicolor, Vieill.); both belong to the family stumidae, or starlings.
Blackbird (Turdus merula).
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).