Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Grackles Out for Dinner

Grackles Out for Dinner

A couple of grackles (or is that a grackle couple?) came for dinner the other night. They usually come in groups and stay on the ground, eating the seeds tossed down by the smaller birds at the feeders. But maybe tonight was special.

When the whole group lands, they can inundate the area, taking turns splashing in the birdbath, covering the lawn like a feathery blanket, flitting back and forth from ground to tree. I like to observe their activities. But as much as I observe them, they are quite the observers themselves. When something, whether a person or the neighborhood stray cat or a visiting grandchild comes too near, they will take off and wait until the supposed danger has passed, then return to whatever they were doing. If someone, mostly me, becomes too annoying, the birds will tell me off, squawking loudly from the trees as if they are yelling at me to go away.

They are often confused with crows but there are differences in size and feathers: crows are larger but grackles have the most beautiful iridescent feathers. Crows are corvids while grackles are icterids, relatives but from different sides of the blackbird family.

Whatever their differences, however, they are both smart birds. They have exceptional memories for faces and places. They can make and use tools. They can actually think like humans, according to tests being done in determining their brain capacity.

I remember how the old term “bird brain” was used to criticize someone who didn’t understand something but perhaps it wasn’t an epithet at all. The more we learn about these birds, the more impressive they seem. And that may go for most assumptions that we make. When we look at others in a negative way, are we really only showing our own lack of understanding? Grackles or crows, us or others, life in any form is an intriguing mystery.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society helps us distinguish grackles from crows:

John Marzluff's findings about crow smarts: