May 17, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Surprise in the Grass

"There in the clump of dead grass and new sprouts was a carefully crafted and well-camouflaged nest..."

By Karen Denison

At Home Outdoors

Karen Denison is owner of Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service, a former biologist, and a shameless admirer of the outdoors.


While foraging for wild greens last week (yum!), I spotted a particularly promising clump and marched up to check for tasty new sprouts.  As I reached down, something exploded up toward me from the grass and I nearly wet myself.  One breath later, we were all fine but the bird perched above my head was still scolding me loudly.

Without taking any steps, I returned my attention to the ground.  There in the clump of dead grass and new sprouts was a carefully crafted and well-camouflaged nest making a perfect cup for six small, speckled eggs.  And no wonder the mama bird was so upset—two of the eggs had small holes and I could see a tiny beak working to peck through one of them from the inside.  If I had been more brazen, I probably could have leaned close to hear the eggs "pipping" as young birds often make small sounds to announce their entry into the wider world.  A quick snapshot and I retreated.  The mama bird returned almost instantly.

Mama bird was a Brewer's Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus, found throughout the western United States.  They are fairly common ground-foraging birds of fields and grasslands which have made themselves at home, too, in suburban settings.  My own west-side neighborhood, in fact, is home to them in summer.  Unusually for many of our local birds, they are semi-colonial nesters and where there is one nest there are often many sometimes up to 100 birds although I've never seen that in Santa Fe.  A dozen birds or so is more typical for here and generates plenty of racket, thank you!