Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brewer's Blackbirds vs. Grasshoppers

A male Brewer's Blackbird buffeted by a breeze.
As a Mormon boy, I delighted in the pioneer story of the Miracle of the Gulls.  In 1848, not even a full year after the vanguard group of pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake valley, crickets came in hordes devouring the much depended upon crops.  The pioneers used divers methods to kill and discourage the crickets, but the onslaught was so great that they could only put their trust in God to deliver them from this plague.  Gulls came in great numbers and began gorging themselves on the crickets.  When they had filled themselves, they regurgitated and continued eating until finally eliminating the crickets.  Thus the California Gull became the state bird of Utah and those nasty crickets are now known as "Mormon Crickets".

Well, we've been experiencing our own plague of two-striped grasshoppers this year.  Would I be witness to another avian miracle?!

On the heels of the grasshoppers have come great flocks of Brewer's Blackbirds gorging themselves on those pesky hoppers.  It is really funny to watch the Brewer's flitting about chasing after grasshoppers from their perch on the ground.  Their aerial dexterity is impressive, though not always successful and it's comical to watch each attempt at capture.  Brewer's Blackbirds are persistent and not too many grasshoppers, once targeted, escape to survive.

Observing the Brewer's Blackbird's method of dispatching a grasshopper is most interesting.  I must admit that the torturous episodes vicariously gratify my desire for revenge on these locusts.  

Permit me to expound:  The grasshopper is snatched in the bill, wounded a bit, then intentionally dropped.  It is then grasped in the bill again, but by one of the big powerful hopping legs.  At this point it is shaken and flung about until the body detaches from the leg.  The fallen hopper is then picked up again by the other large leg and the whipping about is repeated until the hopping appendages are completely removed.  At this point the birds will sometimes mash them up a bit more on a rock and then swallow them.  You see, getting those large legs off and a little lubrication from spilled guts helps them slide down the gullet without resistance.  Awesome!!!

Now if only my miracle had come two weeks earlier my backyard would still have at least a few living plants.

A handsome female Brewer's not-so-black Blackbird


  1. Great description of the Brewers hunting habits! **written as I scan the field behind my house to witness this first-hand**

  2. Another example of a species helping to maintain natures natural balance. Excellent post.