Breakfast Buddies?

With rain in the forecast, yesterday morning was a good time to get down and dirty in the garden–both mine and my sister-in-law’s.  Living in a somewhat arid climate, I take advantage of the wet stuff from the sky to dig and plant.  For my garden, it was about clearing out some Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra, which colonizes with verve, and for my sister-in-law’s garden, it was transplanting those rogue bits of shrub-with-root to a new home:  to grow, be beautiful, and provide cover and fruit for birds, and nectar and pollen for pollinators.

I was out early, not too long after sunup, mulling the day ahead, when I spotted our neighborhood Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis, high up in a winter-bared tree.

The tree sits on a property belonging to the street adjacent to mine;  I don’t know whether it’s a front or back garden tree, but it’s at some distance from my front garden.  For this once, I wish my camera owned just a little more scope moxie.

Still, it’s not a bad shot.

As I aimed my lens at the hawk, a gaggle of Great-tailed Grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, fluttered onto another set of branches.  Grackles are chatty and gregarious; perhaps they wanted to keep the hawk company on this grey morning?  Or maybe they  wanted to share tips on the best places for breakfast?

My guess?  They wanted to watch her–like a hawk!

I soon got to work:  back and forth from my garden to my SIL’s, I excised the mini-shrubs, checking the roots’ viability, then chucking those which passed the test into the bin.  I dragged that bin to SIL’s garden, where I proceeded to dig and plant, allowing new starts to this valuable native plant.  As I moved from her garden to my own, I noticed that the hawk kept sentry in the tree, sometimes with company, sometimes alone.  She moved a couple of times, but mostly preened and observed, feathers ruffling in the morning breeze, intelligent eyes watchful.

Eventually, a Blue JayCyanocitta cristata, settled in, just below the hawk.  The hawk and the jay hung out.  What do two birds talk about?  Did you sleep okay last night? What did you have for breakfast?  Do you have any friends or relatives I can eat?

After about two hours of my work and the hawk’s perch, she was gone from the tree when I finished.

As far as I am aware, no bird ate breakfast and no bird was breakfast.

Please check out Anna’s at Flutter and Hum for garden–and other–musings.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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,

…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.