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Mixed Emotions Greet Returning Common Grackles

3-4-16  common grackle IMG_2436

The first common grackles of the year have been sighted — not something to be celebrated by all, for there is a lot to dislike about common grackles. They are among the most significant agricultural pest species in North America, causing millions of dollars in damage to sprouting corn. They also eat other birds’ eggs and nestlings, and occasionally kill and consume adult birds. However, one has to admire the intelligence that some of these actions plus others reflect.

These members of the icterid, or blackbird, family have learned to follow plows in order to consume the invertebrates and mice that are exposed. Grackles engage in “anting” – letting ants crawl all over their bodies in order for the ants to secrete formic acid which may then rid the grackles of parasites. They rotate acorns between their mandibles, utilizing a ridge inside their mouths to open the acorns. And at least one common grackle was crafty enough to live for 23 years before being killed by a bird of prey – an extraordinarily long life for a passerine, or perching, bird.

Regardless of how we regard any one species, the phenomenon of spring migration and the remarkable birds that survive its rigors every year are cause for celebration.

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9 responses

  1. Jane Marshall

    Starlings are a beautiful bird, their black feathes highlighted by iridescent blues and greens. And, any bird which can herald the coming of Spring, can’t be all bad. But, as your description says, they ARE bad! I have found them as greedy visitors to my feeder and there is a need to refill the feeder so often because of them.

    March 3, 2016 at 9:42 am

  2. There is something to be said about ‘bird brain’ and what it actually means!

    March 3, 2016 at 9:55 am

  3. Penny

    What effect has global warming had on the return dates of migrants? Have you noticed anything?

    March 3, 2016 at 10:01 am

    • I will have a post about that probably next week. The answer is that it has had an effect on the timing of arrival dates, making them earlier.

      March 3, 2016 at 10:10 am

  4. Guy Stoye

    Yesterday, March 2, a “squadron” of red-winged blackbirds arrived on that raw and windy morning with great fanfare of their wonderful trilling and burbling here by the Danbury Bog in Danbury, N.H. They are here today again.

    March 3, 2016 at 1:00 pm

  5. Peter

    We call them frat boys. They make a LOT of noise while they’re around and clean out all the feeders.

    March 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm

  6. Your photo reminds me of an Audubon illustration. They are a striking bird despite their reputation.

    March 3, 2016 at 2:13 pm

  7. mariagianferrari

    I love their iridescent plumage. 23 years–that’s amazing!

    March 3, 2016 at 6:43 pm

  8. Doug White

    My first Grackle in southern Michigan was on 2/28.

    March 3, 2016 at 9:48 pm

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