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                   Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 3:40PM CST

Blackbird insanity: Millions of birds in Mascoutah, IL

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HD VIDEO: March 3 and 4 - Millions of blackbirds

This is a consolidation of blog posts on the Blackbird flock in southwestern Illinois near St. Louis - photo galleries are below

On Tuesday, March 2nd, I decided to try out a grocery store I hadn't yet been to in the town of Mascoutah, which is about 6 miles southwest of New Baden. (Mascoutah is in St. Clair County, about 20 miles east of downtown St. Louis.) The 'county road grid' here is paved and well-maintained, in this case making those roads a faster route than taking the Interstate. On the way past the bare cornfields, I encountered a huge flock of several thousand blackbirds, more numerous than anything else I'd seen in nature before. I spent the next 45 minutes following and shooting photos of this mass of birds. I was impressed enough with it that I decided to return the next day for more photos.

On the evening of Wednesday the 3rd, I found a similar-sized flock of birds and followed them as they flew west. The prairies of Illinois consist of flat, open farmland that is mostly devoid of trees until you encounter a river, stream or lake. In this case, Silver Creek, which runs north-south just west of Mascoutah, is one of the more wooded spots in the area. When I reached Silver Creek, I ran into 'blackbird armageddon'. This made what I'd seen the day before seem like nothing. Literally millions of birds were flying southward along the creek in a single, unbroken mass about a quarter mile wide, flowing like a river in the sky. Photos didn't do this justice, so I shot several minutes of video. The 'river of birds' was in progress when I got to the creek, and flowed continuously for at least 10 minutes afterward.

I found some sources online that said that the birds would leave their roost at sunrise in an even more abrupt mass than the craze at sunset, so I returned to Silver Creek at around 5:45AM CST on the morning of the 4th to wait for the show. The sources I'd read were exactly right - the rush of birds was even more intense than the evening before. The video of this tells the story more than anything. The video starts at Silver Creek near Mascoutah just before sunrise, and follows the flock as it moves northeastward into the prairies toward New Baden. As the stream of birds passed over, many would land in the trees until the limbs were filled to capacity. Then, thousands of these birds would take off simultaneously with a loud roaring sound that you would never expect small birds to be able to make.

In all, this was an amazing experience that will rank high on the list of the things I've seen in nature.

Photo Gallery

From March 3rd and 4th (click thumbnails to enlarge):

This was the first flock I saw on Tuesday the 2nd, flying westward between New Baden and Mascoutah. At the time, I thought that even this size of a flock was impressive (click thumbnails to enlarge).

You should collect guano and sell it!
- Posted by Dann Cianca from Centennial (Greenwood Park), Colorado

I've seen flocks like this a few times but not many. Mesmerizing to see them in flight and how they will uniformly change direction/formation on a dime. Would make for a great video opportunity.
- Posted by Paul from Decatur, IL

I've heard these birds every morning for the past week or two, but have never looked to see what they are doing at sunrise. I went out this morning to look, and they have been literally taking over the entire town. There are birds in every tree. They aren't 'swarming' in dense packs but are spread out more - in the fields, trees, everywhere. From what I've read, this is a daily routine for them in the winter. I've only heard them outside in the mornings for about a week or so now, so they must be in migration mode, passing through.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

I will probably try going out in the evenings a couple of times this week to shoot them again. Definitely would make for some interesting video.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

Love all the pics Dan! Red-winged blackbirds arriving here in New England is always one of my first and favorite signs that spring is on the way. Keep your eyes open for yellow-headed blackbirds and grackles (will have a longer, boat-shaped tail) in the mix. Keep the pics coming!
- Posted by Katie from Melrose, MA

Truly amazing. I think I would have cried to see so many birds.
- Posted by Katie from Melrose, MA

Thanks for posting! Must've been almost numbing to be in the midst of this
- Posted by Rick from Massachusetts

Unbelievable footage! I suppose these are redwings but the closeup of one looked like a rusty! Must have been quite an experience!
- Posted by Kirk from Massachusetts

You will get to see that twice in the year, :) Spring and fall.... We went down to the wildlife refuge down by the lock and dam in Alton and saw tons of geese and swan migrating through, plus its a great area for viewing the bald eagles. Tara
- Posted by Tara

Thanks for the comments everyone. This was definitely an awesome experience.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

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