Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Common Grackle

These raucous birds are common throughout Missouri as well as most all of the Eastern United States. These are the Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula). Often mistakenly called Starlings, these are not starlings. The main way to tell the difference is; grackles have white eyes and long tails, starlings have short tails and dark eyes. Starlings are speckled with yellow spots in the winter, and during the spring/summer breeding season they are iridescent much like the grackles. The Common Grackle from a distance resembles blackbirds, upon closer inspection you will notice the beautiful purplish-blue colored head and iridescent feathers. They are a rather long and lanky bird with long legs. They are often seen walking across lawns. This picture was taken at Krug Park in St. Joseph, Missouri. This park features a lagoon that is commonly visited by Canada Geese, plus the city keeps a flock of tame geese and ducks. The public will usually show up in large numbers during nice weather to feed the fowl. The grackles have gotten in on the action and learned where an easy meal is to be found. There were probably 20 or 30 of these birds all fighting for a piece of bread or an errant cheerio thrown out by some small child. These birds are omnivores, they will feed on seeds, insects, minnows, frogs, berries, dog food or cat food left out for our pets, as well as bread and cheerios like these enterprising grackles. These birds will build nests that are well hidden in dense trees or shrubs like conifers. They will also use man-made structures like birdhouses. It is common for them to nest in large colonies, with many nests in the same tree or nearby area. These birds are usually monogamous. Females will usually choose the nesting site and construct the nest. The bottom of the nest is lined with mud then horsehair or grasses. It is not uncommon for males to help in the rearing of not only their own offspring but the offspring of others nesting nearby. One documented case showed two males attending to the young in one nest, with no quarrelling between the two birds, it is assumed one of the males was the father. This behavior would be unusual but certainly not unheard of, typically it is the females who are responsible for the feeding of the young. These birds also practice "Anting" whereby they take ants and rub them through their feathers using the formic acid that the ants naturally produce as a form of pest control. You will find them in most any habitat, from parks, cemeteries, backyards, agricultural fields, and many other open areas.

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