Backyard Bullies

Today’s species of the week will focus on one of the more aggressive of my backyard visitors. Between these guys and the squirrels, it is amazing any other birds visit at all.

Today, I introduce to you…

The Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

IMG_20150324_122749IMG_20150326_130627

From a distance, Grackles look like large blackbirds, but get a bit closer, and you can see a range of iridescent colours, typically in shades of blue and purple (usually on their heads). On a sunny day, they are quite striking. Sorry for the embarrassingly terrible phone photos.

Go to this page instead for amazing photography and some truly hilarious images: http://billhubick.com/photos/birds/common_grackle.php

Grackles dominate at birdfeeders, and often travel in flocks. In my yard, it is not uncommon to see a flock of them swarm the feeder, sending smaller birds fleeing for safety. They are common in suburban areas and city parks, as well as agricultural fields, open woodlands, and meadows. They may migrate a short distance south in winter, depending on location.

Here’s a fun fact:

The Grackle was Jim Henson’s favourite bird. I’m reading Jim Henson’s biography, and when I came across this particular nugget, I decided to choose this for a feature species. http://www.amazon.com/Jim-Henson-Brian-Jay-Jones/dp/0345526112

Here are a few (somewhat more educational) facts:

Their sounds have often been compared to rusty gates. Click here to see why: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Grackle/sounds

Grackles are the #1 threat to corn crops. Farmers use a variety of tactics, from scarecrows, to bad tasting chemicals to deter them.

This one is really cool: Grackles engage in something called “anting” where they expose themselves to the formic acid of ants or other substances (like citrus) in order to rid itself of certain parasites, fungi or bacteria. They have been known to rub their wings actively on anthills or invite ants to climb aboard.

Grackles are noisy and aggressive, and many people don’t like them at their feeders. If you belong to this crowd, there are types of feeders designed to discourage birds such as these. Look for feeders without large trays, with smaller perches and smaller openings.

But, I think they’re pretty.

Sources:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Grackle/id

http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm/ref/collection/uspace/id/1079

http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com/getting-started/coping-with-grackles/

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Posted on April 13, 2015, in Species of the week and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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