In my earlier Salem County post, I talked about farms and large open fields that dominate the landscape. One area, Featherbed Lane in Pilesgrove, is mentioned frequently in rare bird alerts throughout the winter and one species in particular caught my eye – Yellow-headed Blackbird.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds occur in huge flocks over their breeding grounds in central and western areas of Canada and the United States, in the same way Red-winged Blackbirds dominate marshy areas in New Jersey. Each winter a very small number of these birds make their way to the east coast. Typically, the best way to find a Yellow-headed Blackbird is with a large wintering flock of other blackbirds. The process goes something like this – find yourself a flock with several hundred blackbirds, flying in and out of a cornfield or other feeding area, and scan and scan and scan with your bins – looking for a small flash of yellow.
I had spotted, briefly, a Yellow-headed Blackbird earlier this year. Remember the amazing muddy farm in New Egypt? Yes, the one with the Northern Lapwings and Sandhill Cranes! Well, another birder had found a male yellow-headed blackbird in a very large flock of blackbirds feeding in the cornfield adjacent to the lapwings’ muddy home. I went back several times looking for that bird without success. However, on two occasions I did see a flash of yellow, though it was associated with a bird that was much more drab in color, not the deep black and brilliant yellow of a male bird. During the second sighting, I saw the bird well enough, and often enough, to conclude it was a female yellow-headed.
After searching for the Tufted Duck, I decided to give Salem County’s report of yellow-headed blackbirds a try. I wasn’t disappointed. After visiting several farms, I was able to locate this beautiful bird feeding along with hundreds of other blackbirds in a cow pen. I snapped several photos (this one is the best of the batch) and chatted with other birders as we enjoyed the sight.
Salem County turned out to be a great birding location. I’m looking forward to further exploring and birding this beautiful part of New Jersey soon.
Until next time – Good Birding!