Back when I started birding during my youth in California, it didn’t take long for me to notice and appreciate how Northern Mockingbirds would sometimes do backflips in the air while singing. Northern Mockingbirds aren’t all that common in central Mexico, and for some reason, I rarely hear them sing here. Fortunately, I can meet my needs for acrobatic singing with our Blue-black Grassquits.
Blue-black Grassquits are tiny birds, only four inches long, that are very common in subtropical savannah habitats from Mexico to Argentina. Breeding males are a deep, irridescent blue that often looks black, although in the off season they can look buffy-brown like the females, or, more often, a blotchy combination of the two color schemes.
This male shows its full breeding color. (Photo from Paso Ancho)
And this is a much more muted female. (Photo from the following week, El Palmar)
The Blue-black Grassquit’s song isn’t much; it sounds a bit like someone trying to get your attention with an insistent, buzzy “pssst”. There were so many of them last week on my trip to Paso Ancho’s subtropical scrub, that I felt as if a 4-year-old was following me around, desperately wanting to play with me.
Their song is, frankly, very unimpressive. But what Blue-black Grassquits lack in vocal quality, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm. For these birds jump so often while singing (up to several times each minute), that they are apparently called “johnny jump-ups” in some English-speaking areas.
Several Grassquits put on quite a show during my Paso Ancho trip. By leaving my camera on its continuous-shoot function, with manual focus, I was able to document several of one blotchy male’s oh-so-brief jumps:
Pssst! It’s me, just hanging out.
Now I’m up…
Back to hanging out.
I think I’ll do that again.
Home again, home again.
I’m telling you, when Blue-black Grassquits sing, it may not sound like much, but they commit!
The females have flair, as well.