Wild Profile: Meet the common grackle

Published: December 8, 2020

A common grackle perched on a fence next to a field By Michael Dante Salazar/Shutterstock

Never heard of the grackle? This songbird is one of the last Canadian species to leave its summer digs for winter, sometimes waiting until late fall before finally heading south—usually, to the U.S., as far as Texas. Okay, maybe the term “songbird” is pushing it. A grackle’s call is terrible and screechy, a little like the sound of a rusty gate.

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Other than their awful, awful, uh, song, grackles are distinguishable from other blackbirds—there are about 400 million of them in North American—because of their yellow eyes. They’re also taller and longer than other blackbirds, as if they’ve been stretched. In flight, their rudder-like tails sometimes fold into a V-shape. Males, meanwhile, can look iridescent, sometimes shining blue, purple, or green in the sun, especially at the head and neck.

Grackles prefer wet habitats—shorelines, riversides, swamps—but they’re flexible. They’re fond of hanging around human-heavy areas—campsites, for example—and scavenging off garbage and food scraps. They’re also resourceful. A grackle will wade into water to catch fish or rip the leeches off the legs of swimming turtles; it will follow behind farm machinery ploughing a field, snatching up the mice or invertebrates that scatter in terror. But at the very top of the menu? The eggs and nestlings of other birds. Grackles are no friends to their songbird kin; they’ll even kill and eat adult birds!

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Grackles are also a well-known agricultural pest. Crows are blamed for destroying crops, sure, but when it comes to corn, grackles are actually the number one thief. Massive flocks will eat mature corn, along with corn sprouts. Scarecrows? Scare-grackles.

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