Birds’ ballet over borough a sight to see

By Michael Givant

The mixed flock of grackles and starlings flew from tree to tree, filling every bare branch like black Christmas ornaments. They go over rooftops, spill onto lawns and grass on the streets near the perimeter of Alley Pond Park. Against the blue sky, the grackles are jet-black forms with semi-wedge-shaped tails. Oddly, the starlings appear to be a medium brown with a flashing accompaniment of dull gray as their wings beat.I had expected to see some starlings because this time of year they flock in large numbers, but not this many and certainly not with grackles. After a while, I estimate that there are 1,200 birds. When I first put my binoculars on the birds, which I had thought were all starlings, I am surprised to see black bodies with a deep iridescent aqua hue on their necks Ð grackles. Now one is on a tree with bright red berries, its calm pose in contrast to the bird's blazing yellow eye rim. Starlings never looked so beautiful as they peck away on a lawn. Medium brown with a black and dull white speckled breast and a bright yellow bill, they look like miniature two-legged leopards with wings.The two species may fly together but they feed separately Ð some on lawns, others on damp leaves on the park side of the street. Still others circle low over the street in a way that birds do at sea. Soon they all take to the air and fly between the long line of trees at the park's perimeter. I follow along in the street as if I'm on a moving dolly with a camera that is filming them.Deeper in the park, they fly en mass frequently. Once they fly low toward me, separating as they pass. Another time they fly endlessly, filling the blue space between the trees. In every direction I turn, birds are winging it to another tree or to the ground. Caught up in the beauty of the moment I wish that wherever they are going, I could fly with them.Four grackles drink from a puddle, their bills glistening as drops of water fall from them. Others toss leaves with their bills, using them as two-pronged pitchforks. One looking straight at me holds a small nut in its bill. Another flies in and chases it off. No displaying trophies, thank you. Now the sun has made their necks and backs a palette of aqua, blue and purple on shimmering black bodies. I sit at a picnic table, the cold air in my nostrils and the waning sun's warmth on my face, wondering and watching, luxuriating in a moment that seems endless.Michael Givant is a retired college professor who taught sociology at Adelphi University for more than 30 years.

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