If you live anywhere in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, chances are you know about the common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula). Whether they’re swarming about grocery store parking lots or hanging out on miles of telephone wire, grackles are a staple of Middle America. They’re so prevalent in Texas, some people have even said they’d like to see them replace the mockingbird as state bird. As bold of a statement that might be, it’s hard to not be impressed after learning a little bit about these incredibly prevalent, yet fascinating birds.
10. The Scrappy Bird Gets the Leftovers
The common grackle is known to be extremely opportunistic. You’ve probably seen them cleaning up a leftover plate of fries at picnic table or making off with half a hotdog from an unwatched outdoor lunch. Much like their portly-looking friend the pigeon, grackles have actually been known to thrive alongside human expansion and development.
9. Native New World-ers
Grackles are a part of the icterid family of birds, mostly from the New World. This just means they come from the Western Hemisphere, mostly the Americas and their neighboring islands. The common grackle is actually even considered to be a rather large member of the icterid family, which also contains orioles and meadowlarks. In this way, the common grackle is a native species to the United States.
8. They Like to Bug Out
It turns out grackles are one of the types of birds that are known to practice anting. This appropriately titled behavior involves the birds rubbing ants on their feathers and skin. The real mystery is no one is exactly sure why. Some suggest the ants secrete a liquid which can act as an insecticide, killing feather mites for the bird. Others think it could have something to do the bird shedding its feathers, or molting.
Although over 200 different species of birds are known to practice this, so the reason could differ from bird to bird or even grackle to grackle!
7. Grackles Might be on the Decline
Despite the fact grackles have been known to thrive alongside humans, the National Audubon Society says the common grackle population has been declining. It’s estimated that their population is somewhere around 73 million. This may sound like a lot, but it’s a far cry from their peak population of 190 million.
6. They’re Copycats
Grackles have a distinct and sharp song. Like most birds, its call varies between seasons. But what you may not have been aware of is grackles can actually mimic the sounds made by other birds. In fact, they’ve even been known to mimic human noises. Of course they’re nowhere near as good as a parrot, or even the territorial Texas favorite, the mockingbird.
5. More Than Just Black & Brown
While some people might contest that all grackles look alike, they’re actually a diverse bird, consisting of several different genus. Even the common grackle found about the North America’s differ in plumage when it comes to sex of the bird. Male grackles have a black sheen that can give off a gorgeous purple, green, or blue iridescence in the sun if they’re healthy. Females tend to be smaller and sport a black and brown combination of color.
4. They’re the Opposite of Picky
Grackles are quite the efficient foragers, and will even steal food from less savvy birds. They’re omnivores and will eat anything from bugs to minnows to different types of berries and seeds. Of course these birds aren’t snobby at all and will snatch human food at a moment’s notice.
3. Flocks, Flights, Pods & More
Almost everyone has heard of a “murder” of crows, though there doesn’t seem to be a defined term for a group of grackles. So, just like any other group of bird they are frequently referred to as a flight, pod or flock. However, since the common grackle has a reputation that proceeds it, people have been known to refer to groups of the bird as an “annoyance” or “plague.” Just suppose it all depends on personal preference.
2. A Well-Traveled Bird
Since there are so many types of grackle, it only makes sense that the bird covers such a wide portion of the Americas. From the United States to Mexico, this bird has been known to make its presence noticed, even if it’s in the middle of a sprawling urban environment. Grackles extend south too, living in places like Columbia, Honduras, and even Venezuela. In fact, each country has their own traditions and stories about the little black bird.
1. Nests in Colonies
The common grackle is a scrappy bird if there ever were one. A single female can lay four to seven eggs in a single mating season; this coupled with the fact that they are not at all picky as to where they make their nests, and it’s easy to see why they’re still seen in such large numbers. Grackles have even been known to make whole nest colonies, which can get surprisingly big. Some colonies have been known to get as large as 200 pairs. Now that’s what you call a plague of grackle.