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Common Grackle - A Very Smart and Proud Bird

Article and photos by Kathryn Mann

Perfect Common Grackle
Common Grackle near Oologah, Oklahoma

In Oklahoma Common Grackles are the common songbird that cannot sing. It is said that they have a song that sounds like a squeaky barn door hinge, and that a flock of Grackles singing can sound like a thousand wheel barrows going by.

Common Grackle profile
A Grackle sitting on his favorite fence near Commerce, Oklahoma

Grackles are exceptionally intelligent animals. For example they often steal dry dog food out of bowls and fly to a nearby puddle or pond and continue to dip the pellet in the water until they determine it is soft enough to eat. The following video should convince you that Common Grackles are geniuses.


Amazing Problem-Solving by a Grackle


Another Smart Grackle

Common Grackles are perhaps the most self-confident bird. They always walk about with their head erect, their shoulders back, and their chest out, with an intimidating gaze from their penetrating yellow eyes. Whenever other birds are around eating and a Grackle lands it is this cocky attitude that causes the other birds to fly off.

Bird giving the Evel Eye
Common Grackles can frighten other birds with their intimidating look

Many people mistake Common Grackles for European Starlings which are non-native birds. Grackles are native to the United States, and have actually experienced a 61% population decline over the last several decades.

Common Grackles are stunningly beautiful. While their plumage is actually black, their feathers give them a bluish black iridescent color. The male is about 13 inches in length, while females are closer to 11 inches. They have yellow eyes, a long black bill, and a long keel-shaped tail.

Common Grackle Close-Up
This Common Grackle is visiting in my back yard

The Common Grackle is more common in rural areas of Oklahoma near farm land, though it is not unusual to see them in cities and towns. Like humans, they love ripe corn and take it off the stalk or more often from feedlots where it is meant for livestock. They also eat insects, crustaceans, earthworms, frogs, and berries.

Common Grackle
This Grackle lives near Bull Hollow, Oklahoma

While in Oklahoma in the spring and summer Common Grackles breed and nest in small groups, yet it is more typical to see one solitary Grackle at a time. In the fall and winter they travel to warm urban areas like Austin and Houston, Texas where they gather in huge numbers and thousands often take over several adjoining trees. In Austin, where I grew up, the downtown Central Market grocery store plays recordings of predatory bird screeches to try to drive off the Grackles.


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Comments:

martin13005      7:41 PM Sun 7/27/2014

I agree chris m simmons, I think you have a bird for life. I released my bird and he flew to the trees right away, I did have a 'curfew' the first week; I'd call him and he'd fly in, then he'd sleep inside the night. Did that for a week and 1/2...one night was trying to decide if I should take him in or leave him out and he decided for me and flew to the trees, he's been out ever since. I tried to bring him in once a week or two later, because we were supposed to have a nasty storm, absolutely would not let me ...kept hopping off my hand whenever I tried to come in. One other thing you need to do before trying to release them is play games with the food, hide it and see if they find it, go bug hunting with them...they're very clever, doesn't take very long for them to learn.. grackles live an average of 20 years
 

chris m simmons      6:23 PM Sun 7/27/2014

i have a young grackle, named squawk my parents say let him go but since ive pretty much babied him since he was a fledge hes got no fear of cats dogs or other people i work at Kroger and we have a few grackles and a bunch of morning doves funny thing is i named them all :) squawk gets very upset when i leave my room and will sit and scream at me until i come back and then get quiet and just investigate things again it comes down to i cannot release a bird like this, my initial intention was to let him go once he was able to fly but i did take him outside and he refused to fly away just sat and tried flying back in and sat on my shoulder so nope hes going to stay very smart bird will pick up anythng worth investigating and will try and ask for food he will sit by me mouth open while i eat and wait to be fed LOL his favorite food is dried meal worms since the are mainly 36 percent crude protein its perfect for him also they will drink from spoons needless to say i love the bird and when i come home i shout bird!!!! real loud and sure enough he will start chattering :)
 

Martin13005      6:27 PM Fri 7/18/2014

Someone in our neighborhood has the same sentiments as lee rega, I found a dead grackle in our back yard, looked like someone had shot her with BB gun. I know 'her' because I found her nest later that day, four chicks, three dead, one barely hanging on. I searched the internet, found information and started being 'mom' to Birdy. Two weeks of feeding him every twenty minutes for 14 hours, then every 1/2 hour for another two, then hourly...it's been 8 weeks and Birdy has been outside full time for 3 weeks. He still comes around the back deck a few times a day for food, but it's less and less and he seems to fly with his mother's flock. VERY happy :)
 

lee rega      6:16 AM Wed 6/18/2014

Grackles attack and eat newly hatched birds of other species. They are not cute or should be encouraged in anyway. Unfortunately you people have not seen this so you think they are wonderful birds. They are gang birds. The more these and other gang birds survive the less there will be of other species including butterflies.

Grackles will come very early in the morning and harass another bird in its nest, i.e. cardinals, robins, etc. When the harassed bird leaves the nest they attack the babies. This is a fact which I have seen. I have not enjoyed my garden since these monsters have taken up residence and they are growing in population.

As far as mother nature goes, survival of the fittest means waking up to a cacaphony of black things and house sparrows, and nothing else. I live on Long Island so we don't have a lot of space for these types of birds without giving up every other kind. Those of you who live in the great beyond with fields and acres of land do not understand. I would support the culling of certain birds the same way they cull deer hers.
 

Terry      8:39 PM Fri 6/6/2014

I found a baby grackle today. I was able to get her to fall asleep on me. I'm taking her to a sanctuary in the morning since I know it's best for her. Her plumage is till not all out.
 

Melissa      9:17 PM Sat 5/24/2014

I am devastated by something that happened today with a baby grackle. It flew into our garage and got stuck in a container of oil my husband had just changed for our vehicle...and was going to take it to the waste depot this week. The mom bird was within arms reach calling out. We called the vet, who recommended we wash the baby gently with dish soap and leave it for the mom to help. I did that and the bird is not doing well. It's been 3 hours and he's still wet and not chirping. Mom is within one meter of baby but making no move to come closer or fly away. I was hoping if I left them for a whole the mom would get the baby moving. Nothing yet. I could probably touch the mom bird. She's not moving away from me anymore. I got worms and corn and fresh water...and they are still in the garage. I'm so broken hearted for these birds. I closed the garage so no cats or other predators get them tonight. To those of you that helped babies already....how did you get them to eat or drink??? My baby won't stand on its own....not sure if baby will make it through the night. Advice would be appreciated.

Just this morning we saved another chick from a dog....gave it space and it recovered. Flew away after about 30 minutes.

I'm hoping this second little bird will make it the night.....
 

mike      1:29 PM Wed 5/21/2014

Last night after watering the back yard I watched a male grackle follow a pair of robins around, when one had a worm out of the ground he'd take it away. Crackles are very smart, he rightly perceived my movements toward him as a threat and vacated the area.
I'm a bird bigot as I like my robins more....
 

Lucky      5:51 PM Sun 8/18/2013

My wife rescued a baby grackle earlier this summer. Named it Lucky because is lucky to be alive with the dogs and cats around our home. Anyway, my wife also rescued three baby robins that also were at risk of certain death from the other pets at our home and they were doing fine until Lucky seemed to have determined that the robins were outstaying their welcome and killed the robins. My wife scolded Lucky and took him outside on her arm to let him go...tried to shake off her arm and he would not leave. I think he knew what was up. Later that day, she tried to do this again and he flew a short distance away. Then one of our cats spotted him and was making his move to get Lucky when Lucky seemed to perceive the danger and flew to a low branch on a tree. My wife went to Lucky and brought him back in. Lucky has been living a really pretty spoiled life. Each morning he will wake us by pecking at our toes, ears, mouth...whatever he can get at. Well, the other morning, he tried to wake me up by pecking at my eye. Really didn't feel too good. Later looked at my eye and was very red at the outside white portion. So, the last couple of days have tried to keep him away from our face when we are trying to sleep. Now he seems rather withdrawn and quiet. Just goes to the window and stares outside. He has stopped talking, eats very little compared to before. Before, he was always chattering and whenever he heard my wifes voice, he would always go to the window and talk to her. Don't know if we have hurt his feelings or what. Before he would always want to be with us wherever we are, but now he just seems so complacent. we have a box of crickets that we feed him along with his other food, and we are also wondering if the lettuce we gave the crickets to eat may also be a reason for this behavior. Maybe the lettuce we gave the crickets makes the crickets have a bad taste? Whatever the reason, his withdrawn, quiet behavior has my wife in a quandary. Anyone have any ideas about this?
 

Birdie      7:09 PM Fri 6/21/2013

Hi! I just rescued a baby grackle. I have had him one day and he seems to be doing great. Eating and pooping regularly. When do they start eating more on their own? And any other information would be great. I tried to get him back to his mother but the nest was too high and she didn't come back. So I called some places and some were helpful but just could use more. Any feedback helpful!!!
 

Eric      1:30 PM Mon 6/3/2013

I totally love this post and agree with the comments. The mere fact I found this page is because I've been noticing the intelligence of these birds at random parking lots around here in Austin and I wanted to find out what kind of bird they were. They catch the eye with their irridesence and their cocky postures and displays. I kinda like their shrill calls and there is something tropical about when you drive to a local grocery store and hear thousands of them all congregated in the trees or on the power lines. Its amazing how they congregate too...they seem to be able to perfectly space themselves out on the power lines with like a perfect 6-10 inch gap between each other. I find it fascinating too; just hearing them all 'chat' with each other--you can almost imagine that they are like: "hey bob, how did scavenging go today?...not too bad, found a great spot where they just mowed the lawn and kicked up critters to eat..." Anyway, the stories posted above about their inquisitive behavior as pets doesnt surprise me...they are smart little birds and a treasure to have around here.
 

Vivien      11:07 AM Fri 3/15/2013

I too have a young rescued pet grackle. He's been with me for 8 months now and is a delight. He flies around the home and in summer on an enclosed windowsill, Recently he has developed a strange behaviour: instead of bathing in his birdbath, which he did at least daily for months, he now opts to wash in his water dish, which is much smaller and doesn't allow him to get soaking wet nor fully clean. I don't understand why this is going on. I've brought in replacement baths and he will drink from them and retrieve toys from it, or dip food in it, he won't take a bath!

Any thoughts or suggestions? I was also wondering if there was a grackle message board somewhere....

 

Keebs      1:23 AM Sun 3/3/2013

Holy Crap! We recently started putting up a suet feeder to attract new birds. We started getting Pine Warblers, Goldfinches, and Downy Wodpeckers. Recently, those birds have been scared off by Common Grackles and European Starlings eating at the suet. Since my wife and I love ALL birds, we won't do anything to disrupt these raucous invaders, even though we kind of see grackles as pests and threats to smaller birds. The stories I've read in this post have made me even more tolerant of these hooligans, but hope that their presence is merely part of a temporary migration presence.
 

Vicrow      5:58 AM Wed 12/19/2012

Patsi,What stunning ptohos! You must have a great photo gallery hanging in your home.We were just talking about taking down our feeder have this serving is empty. We'll later hang our hummingbird feeders up on the same poles out in the garden.I just came in from working in the garden. I was looking through my seed packets (the one from you especially) to decide what to start or what to wait and sow directly. I started agastache and centranthus ruber in seed pots.Cheers,Cameron
 

Lee      5:00 PM Sat 10/27/2012

Raised a grackle from an chick and called him Toby.After he was flying good and eating on his own it was time for him to return to the wild.One morning we took his cage out on the deck and left him go.He came back that evening for his usual bed time meal of bread dipped in milk.Every day since we let him go every morning but he wants back in the house each evening.If it rains he comes in early.

He is a very enjoyable pet to watch.He likes to sit on your shoulder or head.He picks up everything and checks it out.We have a box of his favorite toys which he roots out often.He will eat about anything.Ceral,bologna,corn,pasta but his favorite is bread dipped in milk.

Toby has become a part of our family .He wouldn't be for everyone.Because he can get into anything and is not in the least house trained but if you keep him in the cage for a while after he eats.It's not so bad.

We will be sad if he never comes back in someday but we will continue to give him that choice.
 

Jennifer      8:05 PM Wed 6/20/2012

I have a grackle who is very young that we saved after a storm knocked his nest out of a nearby pine. After about 2 weeks we moved him back outside expecting him to fly off.. but he didnt. He stays outside in the tree's around our 3 acer property and eats catfood softened in water. He is so sweet and smart, my only concern is I never see him looking for food. He is always playing, picking up sticks, pulling at things with his beak, taking a splash in the bird bath. He flies over to me when he wants to eat, then sits and hops around pecking at my braclet or just generally being a silly bird who seems to not have a care in the world. Iv seen him eat a couple of ants but thats it... most everything he picks up is to play with.
 

Erica      2:54 PM Tue 4/26/2011

I have a Grackle named Oliver who has been visiting me for over 2 years. He does so many tricks for me and the people passing are fascinated by him. Just recently he started catching Cheerios as I toss them.. There is a dog bowl near my office work door and he will stand on the rim of the bowl and wait for me to toss Cheerios and then dip them in the water bowl to soften them. He then looks up at me to toss more so he an dip them and eat.....it hilarious! He catches great and will catch up to 2 feet away,
He also really enjoys Fruit Loops although he wont eat the green ones...it's weird.
He has become a friend and he waits for me every morning in the parking lot and will waddle behind me as i walk to work from my car. People really get a kick out of Oliver, he's a regular and many people know him. i wish you could hear his specila call he makes at my office door everyday when he's ready to eat.

Erica :)
 

sarscat      10:04 PM Tue 4/12/2011

I love grackles. I used to get in trouble while working at HEB in San Marcos for taking too long rounding up the carts in the parking lot, I used to stay out there watching the grackles sachay around the parking lot with their inimitable style. They are the best, sassiest birds.
 

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Oklahoma Birds Listed by Color

Red
House Finch - male (carpodacus mexicanus)
Purple Finch - male (carpodacus purpureus)
Northern Cardinal - male (cardinalis cardinalis)
Painted Bunting - male (passerina ciris)
Summer Tanager - male (piranga rubra)

Orange
Baltimore Oriole - male (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - male (icterus spurius)

Yellow
Yellow Warbler (dendroica petechia )
Baltimore Oriole - female (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - female (icterus spurius)
Summer Tanager - female (piranga rubra)
Yellow Goldfinch - male (carduelis tristis)
Western Kingbird (tyrannus verticalis)
Eastern Meadowlark (sturnella magna)

Green
Malard - male (anas platyrhynchos)
Dark-eyed Junco - female (junco hyemalis)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (archilochus colubris)
Painted Bunting - female (passerina ciris)
Green Heron (butorides virescens)

Blue
Barn Swallow (hirundo rustica)
Belted Kingfisher (ceryle alcyon)
Blue Jay (cyanocitta cristata)
Blue Grosbeak - male (guiraca caerulea)
Eastern Bluebird (sailia sialis)
Indigo Bunting - male (passerina cyanea)
Purple Martin - male (progne subis)

Grey
Great Blue Heron (ardea herodias)
Carolina Chickadee (poecile carolinensis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (sitta canadensis)
Grey Catbird (dumetella carolinensis)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (regulus calendula)
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher (tyrannus forficatus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (sitta carolinensis)
Tufted Titmouse (baelophus bicolor)
American Robin (turdus migratorius)
Northern Mockingbird (mimus polyglottos)
Mississippi Kite (ictinia mississippiensis)
Dickcissel (spiza americana)

Black
American Crow (corvus brachyrhynchos)
Brown-headed Cowbird - male (molothrus ater)
European Starling (sturnus vulgaris)
Common Grackle (quiscalus quiscula)
Red-winged Blackbird - male (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Towhee (pipilo maculatus)
Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura)

Black & White
American Bald Eagle (haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Black-billed Magpie (pica hudsonia)
Downey Woodpecker (picoides pubescens)
Red-Bellied Woodpecker (melanerpes carolinus)
Purple Martin - female (progne subis)
Eastern Kingbird (tyrannus tyrannus)
Dark-eyed Junco - male (junco hyemalis)
Loggerhead Shrike (lanius ludovicianus)

Brown
American Kestrel (falco sparverius)
Blue Grosbeak - female (guiraca caerulea)
Brown-headed Cowbird - female (molothrus ater)
Brown Thrasher (toxostoma rufum)
Common Nighthawk (chordeiles minor)
Carolina Wren (thryothorus ludovicianus)
Cedar Waxwing (bombycilla cedrorum)
Greater Roadrunner (geococcyx californianus)
Killdeer (charadrius vociferus)
Northern Bobwhite (colinus virginianus)
Red-tailed Hawk (buteo jamaicensis)
Cliff Swallow (petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Horned Lark (eremophila alpestris)
House Finch - female (carpodacus mexicanus)
Northern Flicker (colaptes auratus)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (coccyzus americanus)
Mourning Dove (zenaida macroura)
Malard - female (anas platyrhynchos)
Purple Finch - female (carpodacus purpureus)
House Sparrow (passer domesticus)
Indigo Bunting - female (passerina cyanea)
Red-winged Blackbird - female (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Sandpiper (actitis macularia)
Upland Sandpiper (bartramia longicauda)
Northern Cardinal - female (cardinalis cardinalis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Yellow Goldfinch - female (carduelis tristis)
Canada Goose (branta canadensis)

Various
Wild Birds of Northeast OK


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