Being a third grader

Like many around my age then, in an untold year in the 1970s I found myself in third grade.  I already felt all grown up.  A big boy.  One of the ruffians of adulthood who could look down on those puny first and second graders and, most notably, the tiny tots in kindergarten.  And as third grade teachers are wont to do, our marvelous guide through those wee years took us headlong into the daunting task of learning about our local flora and fauna.  It was during that journey that I met my favorite bird.

A male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) displaying and calling from atop a tree (2009_03_21_013144)

The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus).  Oh, you expected cock-of-the-rock or bald eagle or some other manifestation of untold beauty or power?  Nope.  It boiled down to a simple, common blackbird that caught my eye and somehow forever ingrained itself into my psyche as the most fascinating, marvelous, beautiful bird ever imagined.  Maybe I just have simple tastes.

A male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched on a thing branch (2010_03_06_050710)

It goes without saying that I have a great deal of interest in and adoration for black birds, such as grackles, blackbirds, cowbirds, and crows and ravens (corvids).  Most especially corvids.  But that’s a subject for a later time.

A female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched on a reed (2009_03_08_012714)

As I sat in the bright classroom many years ago and colored my blackbird to make it look like the teacher’s example, the creature took on new life.  Something about it captured my imagination.  Something about it grabbed me and shook me and demanded that I look closer, that I look beyond the ubiquitous nature of these creatures and see what lay beyond.

A male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched on a tree branch (2009_03_21_013196)

Like other black birds, red-winged blackbirds make up in personality what they lack in showy colors and over-the-top patterns.  Such life!  Such vitality!  And too often overlooked.

A female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) standing atop a pier support column (2009_05_31_020950)

I don’t know precisely what it is about these birds that reaches inside me and holds me still.  I don’t know why hawks are my medicine animals while these simple blackbirds are the avians I enjoy most.  I don’t know why over the years, having seen so many other bird species, this one remains the most powerful inducer of smiles.

A male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) watching me from a tree branch (2009_05_31_021197)

No, I don’t know any of those things.  And I don’t care.  All I know is that every time I see one—pretty much every day of the year—I become that third grader again, that awestruck boy captivated by a bird unequaled by any other.

[The unfortunate truth is that I take very few photos of red-winged blackbirds.  I spend more time sitting and watching them than I do photographing them.  I guess I’m selfish that way, always keeping the joy to myself rather than sharing it, which sounds a lot like a third grader I used to know.]

10 thoughts on “Being a third grader”

  1. I love my backyard grackles and red-winged blackbirds. When they arrive where I live, in MA, it marks a particular moment in Spring. They are conspicuously absent for a few weeks, apparently nesting, then reappear in early Summer with their young at the feeders. Here flickers and cedar waxwings are rare and always stop me in my tracks.

    1. I hear you, John. Down here in TX it’s either of the kingbird species or scissor-tailed flycatchers that mark that spring moment when our migrants are coming back. It’s always a mix-emotion thing because it means we’re losing our winter residents like kinglets and waxwings.

  2. You seem to specialize in poxy-footed birds. 🙂

    I can totally relate to feeling most drawn to the common species. My favourite birds have for a long time been (in no particular order) House Sparrow (for their unsuppressible cheerfulness even in the dead of winter), European Starling (gorgeous birds, and a bright bit of life in the desolate urban winter), Eastern Phoebe (fond memories of the ones who’d sing by the house every morning growing up), Wood Thrush (for their gorgeous song) and Blue-winged Warbler (the first warbler I ever saw, which I tracked down by its song and identified by myself).

    I have a special fondness for Redwings, too, though, as, like John says, spring only really arrives when the first Redwing can be heard singing in the swamp. Growing up, they were always the herald of spring for me.

    1. That is so funny, Seabrooke. I’m always aware of the pox when I see it, but I don’t think about it when I post photos.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds joy in what so many see as common. Maybe it’s that they are common that leads me to appreciate them more. Like starlings and house sparrows (which gets me in trouble with purists, but I don’t care). And eastern phoebes! They’re always around here and I’m always giddy when I hear or see them.

  3. Lovely recollection of your 3rd grade totem bird. And for not taking many pictures, you sure managed to share some really great ones – I especially like that last one.

    When I was in third grade, I was too busy playing with “horny toads” to notice birds. Good stuff. 🙂

    1. When I said I had a backlog of photos, Amber, I meant it. What usually shows up here is less than 10% of what I take and I usually delete thousands of images each year because it becomes a glut.

      And I’m laughing about the horny toads. I can relate. We were catching crickets and fireflies and snakes and frogs, playing with earthworms, bathing in the smell of honeysuckle, and a laundry list of other fun.

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