Saturday, August 4, 2012

Great-tailed Grackle

I noticed a couple at Christopher Columbus Park in Tucson because of a commotion.  A man, woman and child were feeding pretzels and croutons to the ducks in the lagoon. Some Great-tailed Grackles were present too and they were upset because they weren’t getting any.  The ducks could swim, but the grackles couldn’t.  I wasn’t interested in the ducks. I wanted the Great-tailed Grackles.

The man spotted me immediately and said, “Datt’sa big camera you got!”  Well, I’d been carrying it for several miles by then, so I knew he was right.  I acknowledged his observation without raising my head and kept shooting the grackles.  I didn’t want to be rude, but if they ran out of pretzels and croutons before I got my shots, I would run out of grackles.  The grackles weren’t there to pose for me!  They wanted something to eat, even if it was soggy pretzels and croutons.  The man and woman were big people, so luckily, they brought a big bag of ‘duck food’ and I was able to get all the angles I wanted.

Gregarious and noisy, Great-tailed Grackles form small flocks to forage.  They may be friends and flock-mates, but that doesn’t stop them from stealing from one another.  There was a lot of squabbling, intimidation and outright fighting among the grackles for the limited food, but after the croutons were gone they seemed to be friends again. 

Polygamous and promiscuous, there seems to be little concern in the bird literature as to their future.  Moving northward from Mexico over the past century, they now inhabit a large portion of the Southwest.  We don’t have Great-tailed Grackles in Wisconsin yet, but there is little reason to believe we won’t someday.

We have the Common Grackle, a smaller cousin in the same family.  The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, including all of Florida, host the closely related Boat-tailed Grackle. The three sub-species are not known to interbreed. They're not having trouble surviving though.  In the non-breeding season, large flocks can become agricultural pests. There seems to be no need to feed them pretzels and croutons.

January 10, 2012