A Bird Tail

I adore Grackles.

You ask: what is a Grackle?–double-checking the header on your screen, because you were planning to peruse a gardening blog, but now you think you accidentally clicked on a blog about outer-space aliens.

The Grackle is a type of bird and the kind I know best and chuckle at is the Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus.  My resident (or recently resident) Grackle is no longer of the great-tailed variety.

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He’s done lost his tail!

Not all the Grackles have lost their tails, but this one has and he appears…unbalanced.

I keep expecting him to topple over because he is so lacking in tail feathers.  Would he topple beak first?  Beak-first, he would be thus impaled by his beak in the soil of the garden or perhaps along one of the cracks in the limestone patio.  But if the toppling came butt-side, well, he’d just look silly, sitting there without his tail feathers, skinny legs splayed and gnarly claws up in the air.

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Where are his tail feathers?  Those fine, fanned feathers probably fell victim to molting which occurs this time of year to many bird species.  (As an aside, when I check out the molting bird photos posted by bird enthusiasts on Facebook’s Birds of Texas group, I’m horrified at the  lack of pulchritude that formerly gorgeous birds, like Northern Cardinals, display. Molting birds are not pretty birds–they may be very nice birds and very interesting birds, but they are not attractive birds.)  For the record, my Northern Cardinals remain gorgeous.

And my Grackle–great-tailed or not–is still attractive, though he does appear molty in other parts of him besides his lack of tail–note his tatty head feathers.   Molting notwithstanding, one can appreciate the beautiful iridescence of his coloring–lovely black,  but so much more in blue and purple sheen.  His bright, discerning eyes suggest intelligence and cunning.

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Grackles are clever birds, adjusting to myriad environments and increasing their range in North America because of their adaptability.  Native to Mexico, they’ve expanded their range throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.  They thrive in urban environments: pooping on cars, careening in front of those same cars along some roads, and squawking, squeaking, and beeping with conviction and importance,  especially in early morning and as they gather in groups just before sundown.   Grackles are omnivores–they’ll eat anything and I really mean anything.  Cheeky birds, they’re also fun to watch. When I still had turf that needed mowing, Grackles always accompanied me as I dutifully completed my chore, because while mowing, I flushed out crickets and other insects for their dining pleasure. Grackles were good companions in that despised homeowner’s responsibility. And there is no better show than watching a Grackle guy wooing a Grackle gal–it’s the stuff of urban legend.

I suppose if observed in flocks, queued-up along utility lines or strutting (and they do strut) around the parking lots of grocery stores, waiting for dropped, or better yet, spilled items, they can be disconcertingly…mob-like.  Grackles are loud and raucous–part of their charm, I think, and they’re big birds, too.  They could be considered slightly intimidating, as they single-mindedly scrounge for seeds, insects, or bits of dropped take-out.  They’re vociferous, but harmless–just always on the make for a snack.

My less-than-great-tailed Great-tailed Grackle will eventually grow his tail again. He’ll look like this one, perched high in my American Sycamore tree in April: sunning, stunning, and regally showing off for the ladies. And look at that great tail!

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Or check out this photo courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  This has to be a definitive Great-tailed Grackle photo: a cocky, confident, Grackle-about-town.

© Kaustubh Deshpande, TX, Dallas, May 2009

This guy,

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…who could be the same guy in the Sycamore photo, will once again be a lovely specimen of an avian figure as autumn and winter arrive and when the courting season approaches. The more Grackles, the merrier, or at least funnier and noisier, the garden.

A worthwhile read for an amusing, and sweetly touching, homage to the Great-tailed Grackle, check out this article from Texas Monthly, by John Nova Lomax:  Eight Reasons Grackles Are Awesome

Grackles really are awesome.

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20 thoughts on “A Bird Tail

  1. A great tail of the Grackle. Your fellow looks full of character but I don’ t see him having much success with the ladies until he gets a few more feathers – and a tail.

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  2. I have a bluejay who’s in full molt, and who looks just as — remarkable — as your grackle. I love the birds, too, and it’s nice to find someone else who appreciates their finer qualities. I shy away from link-dropping, but I think you might enjoy my tale of Mr. Grumpy, a grackle who just wanted to get a bath before going out on a Saturday night. 🙂

    I just found beautyberries in the woods this weekend. It was such a delight. Your photo certainly shows them well.

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    • Birds are just hideous when the poor things are in molt. I recall reading somewhere that it’s rather stressful on them, though I suspect that’s only when they catch a glimpse of themselves in a window. I’ll check out your link!

      So glad you found some beautyberries. I think they grow easily by seed, though I’ve always purchased mine.

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  3. I truly adore grackles. I think they are beautiful and spilling over with life. I have a pair who always show up when I cut the lawn. We all do the walking mediation together. One time a human passerby stopped to share a laugh. I call them my pest control unit and I grateful for their services. Kudos on including these photos. I was just thinking the other day that Austin bloggers are more prone to boosting rather than documenting.

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    • “…spilling over with life.” That’s a great description of the grackle. They’re such companionable birds and really are funny–and you’re right, they’re great pest control mechanisms. I had hard time getting good photos and I don’t think these are the best, but I contented myself with them. I’m not trying win awards or self-promote. 🙂

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  4. Tina un post maravilloso como su pájaro Grackle. Es un chico muy guapo aunque ahora desfavorecido. Pero sus ojos son de pícaro. Seguro que cuando termine la muda será un apuesto galán con una gran cola. Me han encantado las fotos del Grackle : es precioso. Gracias por toda la información sobre este pájaro. Saludos de Margarita.

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  5. They’re kind of a quintessential Austin bird, aren’t they? I remember seeing them eat hamburgers and fries at the outdoor food court at UT-Austin next to the UGL. With their blue/black plumage, piercing yellow eyes, and those long wings folded behind their backs, they reminded me of a British headmaster I saw on the Underground one time, barking orders and herding a group of schoolboys. Their noises make me think of wind-up robot birds. I’d see grackles chase other types of birds down the green lawns of my former NW Austin neighborhood. I don’t see them around Dripping Springs much, but I bet they’ll be here within the next 15 years.

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    • I have a very clear picture of grackles as British headmasters–but only when they’re not molting. (The grackles, not the headmasters.:) ) I’ve also seen grackles harass hawks, although I’ve also seen blue jays and mockingbirds do it too. I’m sure there’s a grackle coming soon to your neighborhood.

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  6. Poor molting birds… I always think of the the ways certain women won’t let anybody “look”, much less take a photo until they’ve put their “face on” and are in full regalia, including makeup. I’m glad your grackle didn’t insist on that no-photo rule because these photos? They rule!

    Go-go-grackles!

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    • Molting birds do look bad and sad. Haha–I think Mr. Young Man Grackle was more annoyed with me for disturbing his seed scavenging than he was of my taking his photo, but I could be wrong….:)

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