The grackle is the ultimate American bird, adaptable, intrepid, and obstreperous. Ten species of these iridescent ebon irritants, most in the genus Quiscalus, are distributed throughout the New World. The banner blackbird of most of Mesoamerica as well as much of the southwestern United States is the Great-tailed Grackle. In fact, this aggressive avian ambassador is usually the first bird a visitor encounters, often right outside the airport!
Ogden Nash wrote a particularly apt ode to this intelligent, elegant, irksome icterid titled simply The Grackle…
The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
He bullies more attractive birds
With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
And should a human interfere,
Attacks that human in the rear.
I cannot help but deem the grackle
An ornithological debacle.
If you’ve ever traveled the temperate or tropical parts of the Americas, you’ve met the grackle. You probably also have an opinion about it. Frankly I love them, especially since I just spotted my first Common Grackles of spring. Have you written about a species of grackle or captured a photo that does this dashing dastard justice? If so, show us your grackles!
When we first ran this post in March 2009, we received links from David Ringer, Danny Germer, Nick Sly, Coyote Mercury, and Shelly. Do you want to add to the list?
And if you have a particularly entertaining or egregious grackle tale, feel free to share it in the comments.
Great-tailed Grackles are entertaining but can get rough when you have to sleep with them outside your house. At 5:00 AM they start with those explosive whistles, bizarre scraping sounds, noises that sound like they came from an emergency vehicle, etc. They have quite a repertoire. And anyone who has heard a big roost in the evening knows it can be almost deafening!
It was my first lifer when I first visited Honduras in 2006, right outside the airport just after I picked up my bags.
I once wrote about Great-tailed Grackles: “And there’s something else about them too: They’re scrappy enough to play our games. … [T]he grackles thrive in our most miserable places, warily edging around pedestrians to pick at grimy bits of starch that somebody ground into the pavement. They seem right at home on our power lines and highway signs, and they treat light poles as stages built just for them. At night, they gather in hundreds or thousands, blackening trees and creating a din.”
True, I’ve never had to sleep near a roost, but I’m basically rooting for the grackles. 🙂
I’m working on a blog post now about the recent evidence showing that Great-tailed Grackle should be split into two species.
Also, the Ogden Nash poem is cute, but doesn’t his meter fall apart on “An ornithological debacle”? Hmm, I guess it does work, with some creative syllable stressing: an OR-ni-THO-lo-GI-cal DEB-acle. Maybe that’s part of the joke. I’m sorry I doubted you, Mr. Nash!
Best poem ever! I just added my favorite picture of a grackle foraging along a creek in Ithaca, NY. Grackles are definitely one of the first and last birds I’ve seen in all of my neotropical travels – Great-tails in Mexico and Costa Rica, Carib in Venezuela.
Last year I saw a grackle attack and kill a sparrow at my backyard feeder. I didn’t notice if the sparrow did anything to provoke it, but the grackle was determined to kill it and have some meat to go with his seed. I was very surprised. A quick search of the internet revealed this does happen occasionally, so it was a rare, but not unique, event.
I added a link to an old post with shots of a juvenile being fed by an adult.
The Common Grackles made their first spring visit to my yard yesterday, which was nice since it was feederwatch count day for me. I posted the pictures from yesterday. Those are here for anyone who may be interested.
Great poem, too.
As annoying as they are, they really are photogenic… in a creeps-me-out kind of way! Here’s the shot I entered:
And another for your amusement:
The grackles arrived here (Chicago) a few days ago – I must say, after the winter we’ve had, I was glad to see them! Those eyes… eek!
Mr. Linky doesn’t appear to work on my crappy IE6 work computer.
I did post about my annual grackle invasion yesterday: http://www.hawkowlsnest.com/2009/03/purple-headed-grackle.html
Here are a few of my shots. They are remarkable intelligent birds, noisy birds. I’m glad they’re back to Chicago 🙂
what a lovely site, thank you! i was reading the comments here, and had no idea that a grackle would harm a sparrow. i like to watch the grackles sqeeze into a little bowl feeder fastened on a fence for the sparrows [by their bushes]. there are several other feeders, and the sparrows, grackles, red-winged black birds, blue and gray jays, crows, and starlings all seem to get on well!
For the past few months I have had a number of grackles in my yard – with no problem mixing with the other birds (lots of sparrows, cardinals and doves). Since then, I have recently witnessed a grackle kill a sparrow at my backyard feeder. I have found 3 more dead sparrows in the span of about 1 week. Can anyone suggest something to prevent this from happening? Is it a time of the year issue (nesting, etc)? I enjoy watching all kinds of birds at the feeder…even the suddenly aggressive grackles and would like to come up with a peaceful solution.
Grackles on the Feeder road between Kirkwood and Dairy Ashford south of the I10 in Houston are AGGRESIVE!! to humans. For the last two weeks while on my early morning run (June 2009) I have been attacked from behind by a grackle. It swoops in at high speed and clips my head with its wings and claws. Attacks are repeated and virtually continuous over a 300 yard stretch of road. It has not yet drawn blood, but it is only a matter of time.
Marie. I have the same problem. I cut back on the seed thinking it would attract less grackles. I came home yesterday to 4 dead sparrows, all headless. Yikes. Anyone have a solution or is it just nature?
We have found a two “Headless” sparrows as well. We also witness Grackle killing and eating one of them in our backyard. We have had our bird feeders for 9 years in Oshawa, and it’s our first year of this happening with headless sparrows.
Living in Las Vegas, the great tail grackle has settled in over the past few years. They seem to prefer pine trees as nesting sites. noisy enough with whistles and cracking sounds. Inventive enough in foraging, such as eating pomegranates and pistachio nuts right off the tree. Actually, they knock the pistachios to the ground, pop off the outer hull, then get into the nut, all without hands!
They are a very intelligent bird, and have enough of a language to be able to warn the chicks of impending danger, even calling out certain phrases that mean hide, move, fly up, fly down. I placed a mirror near the watering hole, and the grackles are self aware and primp or clean theirselves while looking in the mirror, totally unlike a dog that only sees a challenger. At first, I thought the black grackle was some sort of crow, but leaving out shiny things they wouldn’t take away.
No offense, but like so many mexicans coming north to los estados unidos, the great tail grackles also has its origins in Mexico, and they too, are making their way north. I could only wonder if they could be taught to talk; and then, what woulod the conversation be?
check out this website for more commentary and history:
Where are the grackles in the Chicago area? I know someone posted that they have returned from migration, but I haven’t seen ANY yet. And they are usually all over the neighborhood. I also haven’t seen any AT ALL in the wide area of Chicago that I drive through going to work and just running errands during the week. What has happened to them?
I recently found a baby Grackle in the bushes along the walkway to my apartment. At first I assumed that it was a common Pigeon. I actually heard it first, turned my head and got a glimpse of darkness smuged in the corner of my eye. Quickly my nature hungry instincts disected the situation and I assumed that it was a baby bird destined to die at the claws and teeth of a wild hunter killer. A Cat. My recent loss of my friend Paulie Walnuts, my african Senagal Parrot, I embraced the situation. I placed my keys and face plate case from my car stereo into one hand. I positioned my key so that I only need put the key straight in the lock. This freed my other hand to snatch the baby bird. Just then, the bird jumped up from the bushes and and with lightning speed I swooped it up! I realized it was not a pigeon but a Grackle. With my hand firmly but gently holding the child bird, I mentally prepared for what was to come. My “clean” hand touched my home, but the “dirty” or bird touching hand touched nothing but the bird. After, I go to get Paulies cage (still set up and with food and water… It’s been) and I placed the bird in his new home. I put him out on the patio. Grackle is growing up. He is older now and perches on my shoulder. He is mean spirited to all and everything but me. Protective. Relentless. Fearless. I can now give him commands. Such as “no” and “ok”. Also “murder” (kill another bird) or “attack”, this is my favorite. He will attack anything. Cats, dogs, people… Cars. He likes meat. He loves hunting mice. He would snatch fish from my tanks until I taught him not to. He’s very much like a 3 year old human child. I can relate. Some of you will consider me evil. I’m not. I love Him. He’s only allowed to hunt the mice on his own. I leave a window cracked. He’s an excellent guard. He will attack an intruder with a loud kawk sound. If ignored he will peck your head. If still ignored, he will attack your face and eyes with a fury unmatched by any of hitchcocks creations. He leaves birds alone. He liked to tear the heads off of blue Jays, but I think I got him to stop. He even brings food to them. He hates cats and if I’m not around, will peck then in the privates. They run in fear. He likes dogs. Dogs like him. He’s afraid of Merlin, my African Grey parrot. I hope I’ve not offended anyone. That is not my intention. He’s free to go at any time. He loves to hunt, thus I offered him some tips. He brought me a snake he had killed the other day. It was a coral snake. He likes to share his catches if he considers them to be harmful, such as black widows, recluse, snakes and even rats. He chowing down on a 50 count tub of meal worms right now. Followed by strawberry, bananna, walnut purée. We are writing a song together later tonight. His name is Sammy Davis Jr. And he’s welcome in my home for as long as he wants it. He’s actually gotten a female to come in the house but they freak when I come around.
He has to show her how to get back out. I must sat, these are smart smart emotinal birds. Hates my girlfriend. Kaws at her non stop. Well, I must go… He wants to watch OCEANS 11. the Sinatra version. The good one…
I found a baby grackle on the grass trying to fly and failing miserably. I waited to see if she could manage but eventually realized she must have fallen so I put her back on one of the tree branches to see if she could get back into the next. It took several tries but she finally climbed up on her own and I assume is fine – this was a few weeks ago. People think you can’t touch a baby bird but you definitely can….I’m sure she’s flying by now.
We have common grackles and winged doves living in peace together and while loud they aren’t aggressive. However, I think they are keeping our green parrots from visiting this season and the mockingbirds are missing as well. I wonder if they scare off other birds. The parrots always visit the same tree during season – at dusk – and while I’ve seen them a few times – they aren’t around as often. The mockingbirds are missing all together. I wonder if the grackles keep everything but the doves away. Anyone know?
A baby grackle fell out of his nest into my yard today and subsequently into my dog’s mouth. The bird was dead by the time I could get my dog away from it. He’s a springer spaniel whose breed is known for their bird hunting capabilities. We scooped up the bird and put him in a section of trees on the other side of our fence. Since then, the grackles are making constant noise and out to get my dog. I’ve let him out once since then and they were taking turns swooping down at him. Does anyone have any solutions/advice for this? I’m concerned for my dog but also for my two small children who play in yard. How long will this last until the grackles have “moved on”?
I just witnessed a grackle attack a pair of house finches as they were mating in our back yard. The grackle attack was unprovoked and raised a good deal of clamor from sparrows, finches, and robins also in the yard. The much larger grackle pecked at the hapless finch and flew off with it to continue its assault until I came out on the deck to intervene. It then flew off to a neighbor’s yard. I had never seen this sort of attack before but have witnessed raptors attack birds in our yard. This attack was not that sort of “things happen in nature” event: it was a measure of cruelty that I had not seen.
I Googled the matter and came up with this website and look forward to checking in to see if anyone else has noticed this sort of avian aggression. It does spoil the idea of having bird feeders to attract birds as they migrate through Colorado if grackles are going to be preying on them.
John (Colorado Springs, CO)
I have been witnessing Grackle attacks on sparrows for the last few years now. I almost hate to put feed in my feeders at this time of the year because I am constantly finding sparrows without their heads. I witnessed an attack yesterday, and it was NOT provoked by the little sparrow that lost it’s life. It all happened so fast that I did not get a chance to stop the gracle from attacking.
For the longest time I thought the headless birds were the product of a neighborhood cat, but now I no otherwise.
From what I have seen, it seems to only happen during the spring, as I do not find headless birds in mid summer or fall.
Please… does anyone know why these birds do this, and how I can prevent this from happening???
It’s funny that I don’t remember seeing headless birds 5 years ago. It’s just been the last few years, it seems.
I am wondering if it has something to do with spring mating, although it only seems to happen at the feeders.
I would appreciate any information that anyone has on this subject, as I am sure that alot of others would also.
I saw a grackle attaching what i believe to be an immature, but out of the nest house finch last week. I chased the grack off once, but he wouldnt leave the area. I couldnt do anything about it so left it to nature. I hadnt seen that before.
I live on the shores of Lake St. Clair, in S.E. Michigan.
As a retired Air Force, and airline pilot, I appreciate anything that flies! lol
I love feeding the wild birds through the winter, and go through quite a bit of bird seed each winter.
I also, occasionally, get a close up view of the many hawks and falcons sharing the skies, as they land on branches right out side my window.
However, come the spring, the Grackles return….and the slaughter begins.
I have come to hate these birds!
They chase all the other birds away, they steal and break the Robin’s and Sparrow’s eggs, and pull the young birds out of the next….kill them, then drop them on my deck, or into my swimming pool.
I tried to scare these horrible birds away, but, they are very intelligent, and learn when to fly away, and when they can come back…they are tenacious!
I’ve called the police, the Michigan State police, the Department of Natural Resources, and NONE of them have any valid advice to scare them away….that works.
They are extremely dirty, as they will literally COVER any one of my vehicles that I park under a tree, shading my driveway….and it’s no accident…it’s totally deliberate.
I asked if I could shoot them with my BB gun, and was told, by the DNR, that they are a protected species, because they are a migratory bird, and there are even treaty agreements with Canada, protecting them!
So, once again, the government is making me a “criminal”…I intend to shoot these birds with my BB gun. I picked up two baby sparrows this morning, to go with the baby Robin a couple of days ago…and I am sick and tired of it.
If they would behave, as all the other bird species do around here…Sparrows, Robins, Cardinals, Mourning Doves, Red Wing Black birds, numerous species of Finches and Woodpeckers…they would be more than welcome….my yard is NOT “the ghetto”…MY RULES APPLY!
So, I’ll risk a fine, to protect the other birds…protecting these dirty, aggressive, and very violent birds is wrong.
We have a hole in a soffit board under our roof which a number of grackles have used to go in and apparently have built at least one nest in there. They fly in and out all day.
I have NO idea of what to do about this!
After reading the story of the grackles attacking the dog that killed a baby grackle, I’m wondering if the same will happen to my dog…
This morning, a young grackle that for some reason seemed completely unafraid of anything (humans, cars, other animals), met an untimely demise from my golden retriever. It was the saddest thing, as we had just returned from our walk, I tied him up, filled his water dish, and was just coming back outside with his food when the young grackle fearlessly came right up to the stairs of the deck.
My dog noticed the grackle and attacked before I could stop him. I managed to call him off before he actually caused any visible physical injury, but the bird died within minutes, I’m guessing from a heart attack.
You may think you’re funny, possibly even talented, but your poem is an insult to the Great-Tailed Grackle and far from its true nature. Some of the comments e.g., about it killing a sparrows, instead of making ignorant comments that try and put the bird in a bad light, why don’t you learn about the bird. It MUST have animal meat to live. It is an omnivore and needs something like 60 percent protein its diet. It is just “nature”, no different from a lion or a tiger eating smaller animals – TO SURVIVE. I rescued a nestling that fell out of a tree that we had pruned in our backyard. He was too small and scared and just went into hiding for hours. He’s a delightful bird and the rest of them in the back yard have never ever bothered me and I don’t find them too noisy. I don’t find our bird too noisy at all. Perhaps, some of you have way too many in your yard and so you find them noisy but, my little bird is great and boy, did he grow! His favorite food is meal worms, 56 percent protein and he’ll pick them out of the dog food-chicken mix before he eats that, even if I add eggs. It’s meal worms first. He obviously needs the protein. Now, don’t go complaining about the bird killing meal worms. Think before you make stupid comments. Are you a vegan? If you aren’t, you’re no different. You may think you are if you don’t actually kill the animal but, if it was killed for you to eat, it’s the same thing. Don’t even bother to try and justify yourself. The bird has to survive, just like the rest of us and some of us have a need for animal protein. It’s sad but, it’s nature.
Like Dan, I also live near Lake St. Clair in S.E. Michigan. Also, like Dan, I have a strong disdain for grackles. They are crowding out other birds. They’ll attack and chase away smaller birds, raid nests, etc. Blue Jays do the same, but for every blue jay I see, there are a hundred grackles. Soon, nothing will be left but ugly, noisy, ever present grackles to see and hear when you go outside. I shoot them with a pellet gun. Killed four one day. Seems futile when hundreds, nay thousands, seem to fly over head or roost in nearby trees. Protect these flying pieces of garbage? How about total extermination? I’m looking to get a shotgun, make my own shells with rock salt, attach a plastic coke bottle for a silencer so as not to totally alarm my suburban neighbors, and blow away as many of these goddamn ugly, malignant, cackling unnatural bastards as possible. I advise everyone to do the same and this plague may go away. Then, maybe the more pleasant, alluring birds will come back to visit your feeders. I can’t believe grackles are protected! If a million rats came down the street and some moronic ban on killing rats were in place, would you still allow them to proceed? No, you’d do anything in your power to slaughter every last one of them. Well, millions of flying rats are flying around, taking over and I, for one, am going to act.
LOL are your responding to current American politics or the blackbirds as they are called in my neck of the woods. These blackbirds have the same traits as your grackles.
I Love Grackles even though I read the poem.
Go to this website for information. I learned a lot from it since I started bird watching for birds in my backyard. I saw it since I got a bird feeder.
I just experienced these birds in Las Vegas, and I adore them. I love all birds, but these birds seemed so smart. Has anyone ever experienced one that would mimic human talking? With their wide vocabulary I am surprised that I haven’t seen any information about this. If they haven’t it’s only because they don’t need to mimic other animals to survive like blue jays mimic hawks to try and scare them away. Blue jays and common crows can talk quite well.
I recently found a baby bird in the middle of the highway. Think it’s a baby grackle. Would someone be able to identifiy it as a baby? Email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m not sure what to do with it at this point. Need some advice.
Love your website and the grackle poem, but someone needs to teach Siri how to read poetry!
strange calls of a single male great tailed grackle: Click the red dot after opening for sound. http://aporee.org/maps/export/?lat=29.560205&lng=-95.140797&zoom=19&type=s&locid=15405&title=Solitary%20male%20Grackle%20calls%2C%20Clear%20Lake%2C%20Houston%2C%20TX%2C%20USA
plague of grackles: http://aporee.org/maps/export/?lat=29.753842&lng=-95.402003&zoom=18&type=s&locid=15392&title=Grackles%20%231%20(this%20is%20Houston)%2C%20Neartown%2F%20Montrose%2C%20Houston%2C%20TX%2C%20USA
We have great-tailed grackles all year long here in El Paso, and they are pretty obnoxious – noisy and ubiquitous. I haven’t seen anything particularly special about them yet, except when one provided a nice meal for a prairie falcon. I’m really glad you shared the Ogden Nash poem, because I’ve long been a fan of his poetry and have not encountered this one before.
I love your commentary on grackles, Susan. Having lived in Texas, I can say that what makes great-tailed grackles out there special is their utter arrogance. They think nothing of chasing people away from park benches or blankets.
I have a mockingbird nest in my rosebush that has three hatchlings. There are about 5 grackles that hang around my yard and they have been fairly oblvious to the nest until today. The parents of the nest have been working overtime to keep the grackles away. Is there anything I can possibly do to keep the nest safe and not deter the parents?
I have a lone great tailed Grackle which visits my backyard birdseed block and water dish. He seems to love to stand in the water dish and groom himself while taking sips of water and having a go at the seed block. He doesn’t seem to bother the sparrows and actually jumps out of the way when they approach him. (MYBE HE FILLED UP ON SEED). Since our temperature is around 108 right now he comes often just to stand in the water until the ground squirrels run him out.
Kristen…Wish I had seen your post sooner. I have luck raising orphaned baby birds by feeding them a mixture of Rice Baby Cereal mixed with Gerber Baby chicken. Feed with a syringe about every two hours during the day. No need to feed at night.
If the bird is fully feathered it probably will eat on its own. Give it tiny pieces of hamburger, corn, peas and even pasta. Also, seed and a small dish of water.
Surprised to see grackles ban together and attack a snake in my yard.
Sitting here at Inks Lake State Park near Burnet, Texas watching a flock of about 7 grackles attacking a big water snake that climbed out of the lake onto a tree limb. This is the second time I’ve seen it happen. They keep after the snake until it gives up and returns to the water, then they dive at it until it’s far from shore!