A well known blackbird is the Brewer’s Blackbird. This common blackbird gets its name from a prominent 19th Century Boston naturalist who started his professional career as an M.D. with a degree from Harvard and later developed a passion for birds. As a teenager he began sharing his field observations with J.J. Audubon. Audubon named the blackbird after this Thomas Mayo Brewer, an amateur ornithologist of the 19th century and a contributor to Audubon’s writings, although Brewer probably never saw this bird in the field. Brewer, also the inventor of mayonnaise, has the questionable distinction of being one of those who supported the introduction of the House Sparrow into the U.S.
The scientific name of Brewer’s Blackbird is Euphagus cyanocephalus, which means “a dark blue-headed bird with a varied diet”. In a bright light male Brewer’s Blackbirds are shiny black with a bluish and greenish iridescence and a yellow eye. Females are a brownish with a dark eye. Both can be found most everywhere in the Chico area around parks, fields and other open areas where they are year-round residents. Brewer’s Blackbirds are social and may nest in colonies of several dozen or more birds. The females choose the nest site and the parents build a nest. The spotted and speckled eggs are very variable, perhaps to blend in with the nest for camouflage.
In the west we can also find the Red-winged Blackbird and the Yellow-headed Blackbird, although the latter seems to be in decline. Occasionally you might spot the rare Tri-colored Blackbird. There is also the fairly common Brown-headed Cowbird which is black except for the head. Also in the “blackbird” family are meadowlarks and orioles. A bit confusing for beginning birdwatchers. Although these birds don’t seem to look much alike, they do share a number of features. One of the most interesting characteristics of the blackbird family (Icteridae) is the musculature of the jaw which provides more opening force than closing. Almost all birds close down on their prey/food, but blackbirds can also pry open fruit or flowers or probe in the ground by putting their closed bill in place and then opening their jaws to expose the food item.
Then there are black birds that are not blackbirds – crows, ravens, the Phainopepla, starling, mynah, etc. just like there are blue birds that are not bluebirds and blue jays that are not Blue Jays.
Remember the nursery rhyme “sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie/when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing…?” In the 16th century an Italian cookbook actually contained a recipe for a pie which contained live blackbirds to liven up a dinner party. If this whets your appetite, you can get a more modern recipe at http://www.cajuncookingrecipes.com/wildgamerecipes/black_bird_pie.htm, although you’ll have to use starlings as other blackbirds are protected by federal law.