Common Grackle

Common Name: Common Grackle.

Scientific Name: Quiscalus Quiscula.

What to look for?  Common Grackles are medium-sized blackbirds. At a distance, they look all black. But adult males have an iridescent, glossy purplish-blue head and neck. They have a bronzy body coloring. Common Grackles are lanky blackbirds with long, black legs. They are characterized by a long, keel-shaped tail – fully one-half their length.  Common Grackles have long, sharp, black bills. And they have yellow eyes.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You can find Common Grackles around here most of the year from March into late fall. They will show up on the ground under bird feeders. You may also see them perch in trees.

How big are they? The Common Grackle averages just over 12 inches in length – with its long tail being one-half of its length. And their wingspan is nearly 16 inches. They weigh in at around four ounces.

What are their flight patterns? In normal flight, Common Grackles fly in a direct path. Their wingbeats are rather stiff. When you view them in flight, their wings appear short in comparison to their long tail. Their long tails are folded down the middle into a shallow V shape as they fly.

How else do they behave? Common Grackles are loud and boisterous. They tend to travel in large groups, including with other blackbirds such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown—headed Cowbirds. When they rest, they will be found high up in trees. Common Grackles can be aggressive and may drive other smaller birds from feeders. Another behavior – express dominance - is the “bill-tilt” where they tilt their heads upward with their bills pointed toward the sky.

What’s for dinner? Almost anything! Common Grackles are omnivores – seasonally. They eat mostly seeds, including sunflower seeds, acorns, tree seeds and grains such as corn and rice. During breeding season, they dine mostly insects, as well as crustaceans, mollusks, fish, frogs, salamanders and mice. In fall and winter, the diet shifts back to seeds and grain. The Common Grackle forages primarily on the ground, tossing aside leaves to uncover their food.

Where do they take up residence? The Common Grackle will be found from the Rocky Mountains eastward. However, in winter, they will limit their range to the Midwest, Southeast, and Central Atlantic states. Here, in northern Illinois, the common grackle is a summer resident, while they will be a year-round winter resident in southern Illinois. The habitat of Common Grackles requires scattered trees for nesting and open ground for foraging. They will reside in open woodland, edges of forest, grassland, meadows, swamps and marshes, and agricultural fields as well as suburbs and city parks.

When and where do they breed and nest? Common Grackles breed in the spring. They build their nest site well hidden among branches of dense conifers or shrubs such as cattails around marshes. There may be up to five eggs that the female will incubate for about two weeks. Both the male and female will feed the nestlings an all-insect diet until fledging time arrives in about three weeks.

Where do they migrate? Here in Kane County, Common Grackles do migrate, although probably not great distances. They arrive in March, staying through spring and summer.  They usually migrate south by end of October. In the southern portion of the Midwest, including southern Illinois, they are year around residents.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. Common Grackles are abundant and widespread, even though populations declined cumulatively by almost 58% over the past five decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 61 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Common Grackles are very vocal birds, but not very melodic. In fact, their song is often compared to the sound of a squeaky, rusty gate opening and closing. Here is a link to the sounds of the Common Grackle.

Interesting Facts About the Common Grackle:

  • In winter, Common Grackles roost in large communal flocks with several different species of blackbird.

  • The Common Grackle subspecies, found in New England and west to the Rocky Mountains, is known as the "Bronzed" Grackle because of its bronze body plumage.

  • Common Grackles are one of the most significant agricultural pests, causing millions of dollars in damage to corn crops.

  • The oldest recorded Common Grackle in North America was approximately 23 years old.

For more information on the Common Grackle and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web and American Bird Conservancy.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!