COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Common Grackle is a black bird with a long tail, which takes the shape of a boat keel sometimes when in flight. The bird’s head is iridescent, with blue-purple being the dominant color. The eyes are yellow, and the bill and legs are black. Sexes are similar, with the female having duller colors. The bird is around 30 cm (12 inches) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Quiscalus-quiscula – Their calls seem laborious and remind of some rusty squeaky old engine. Grackles can imitate other birds, even sounds from human activities.
NAME: The English name ‘Grackle’ is from Latin ‘Graculus’ and means a black bird. The Latin genus and species names would mean ‘quail’, but this origin is not clear.
HABITAT: Open land such as farm fields, suburban areas, marshes.
DIET: Omnivorous, i.e. insects and other arthropods, grain, seeds, eggs and chicks of small birds, even garbage.
NESTING: Common grackles nest in colonies in trees or shrubs near the water. About four light blue eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. Both parents feed the young.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of this species covers the southern part of Canada and the north half of the USA east of the Rockies. They occupy the southeast half of the USA year-round.
DISTRIBUTION MAP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_grackle#/media/File:Quiscalusquiscula_habitat.PNG
ON PEI: The common grackle breeds on Prince Edward Island and is very common except in the winter, when it’s uncommon.
CONSERVATION: Common grackles would number above 60 million, down from historic levels of almost 200 million. They are widespread and not considered at risk. Some farmers consider them a pest because of their habits of forming large flocks and foraging on grain.
Then pesticides are used in some areas for this issue, but this creates another problem, because those flocks are NOT only made of grackles. Some other blackbirds join them, notably the Rusty Blackbird, which is a threatened species.
NOTES: Grackles are known to practice ‘anting‘, i.e. rubbing ants on their bodies. It is not known exactly why birds do this, but one explanation would be that they use the formic acid from ants as a pesticide to get rid of parasites. Another explanation would be to rid the ants of their formic acid before eating them (as a ‘thank you’ after they cleaned their feathers).
SIMILAR SPECIES: Brewer’s Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp ( Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/common-grackle (Missouri Department of Conservation)
In this video below one can see – and hear – two common grackles perched on top of a white spruce.