|Approximate range in North America|
Breeding range Year-round range Wintering range
Gracula quiscula Linnaeus, 1758
The common grackle was first described in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of Systema Naturae, as Gracula quiscula. It was assigned to the genus Quiscalus by French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in his 1816 Dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle.
- Q. q. quiscula (Linnaeus 1758), the nominate subspecies
- Q. q. stonei (Chapman, 1935)
- Q. q. versicolor (Vieillot, 1816)
Adult common grackles measure from 28 to 34 cm (11 to 13 in) in length, span 36–46 cm (14–18 in) across the wings, and weigh 74–142 g (2.6–5.0 oz). Common grackles are less sexually dimorphic than larger grackle species, but the differences between the sexes can still be noticeable. The male, which averages 122 g (4.3 oz), is larger than the female, at an average of 94 g (3.3 oz). Adults have a long, dark bill, pale yellowish eyes, and a long tail; their feathers appear black with purple, green, or blue iridescence on the head, and primarily bronze sheen in the body plumage. Adult females, beyond being smaller, are usually less iridescent; their tails in particular are shorter, and unlike the males, do not keel (display a longitudinal ridge) in flight and are brown with no purple or blue gloss. Juveniles are brown with dark brown eyes.
Distribution and habitat
The breeding habitat is open and semiopen areas across North America east of the Rocky Mountains. The nest is a well-concealed cup in dense trees (particularly pine) or shrubs, usually near water; sometimes, the common grackle nests in cavities or in man-made structures. It often nests in colonies, some being quite large. Bird houses are also a suitable nesting site. Four to seven eggs are in a clutch.
This bird is a permanent resident in much of its range. Northern birds migrate in flocks to the Southeastern United States.
Ecology and behavior
The common grackle forages on the ground, in shallow water, or in shrubs; it may steal food from other birds. It is omnivorous, eating insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds, grain, and even small birds and mice. Grackles at outdoor eating areas often wait eagerly until an unwary bird drops some food. They rush forward and try to grab it, often snatching food out of the beak of another bird. Grackles prefer to eat from the ground at bird feeders, making scattered seed an excellent choice of food for them. Grackles can be regularly seen foraging for insects, especially after a lawn trimming.
The grackle's song is particularly harsh, especially when these birds, in a flock, are calling. Songs vary from year-round chewink chewink to a more complex breeding season ooo whew,whew,whew,whew,whew call that gets faster and faster and ends with a loud crewhewwhew! It also occasionally sounds like a power line buzzing. The grackle can also mimic the sounds of other birds or even humans, though not as precisely as the mockingbird, which is known to share its habitat in the Southeastern United States.
In the breeding season, males tip their heads back and fluff up feathers to display and keep other males away. This same behavior is used as a defensive posture to attempt to intimidate predators. Male common grackles are less aggressive toward one another, and more cooperative and social, than the larger boat-tailed grackle species.
Relationship with humans
The range of this bird expanded west as forests were cleared. In some areas, it is now considered a pest by farmers because of its large numbers and fondness for grain. Despite a currently robust population, a recent study by the National Audubon Society of data from the Christmas Bird Count indicated that populations had declined by 61% to a population of 73 million from historic highs of over 190 million birds.
Unlike many birds, the grackle benefits from the expansion of human populations due to its resourceful and opportunistic nature. Common grackles are considered a serious threat to crops by some, and notoriously difficult to exterminate and usually require the use of hawks or similar large birds of prey.
Though the exact mechanism is poorly understood, several studies have examined the ability of the common grackle to interpret the Earth's magnetic field—or in this case, the variability of it. The common grackle, (like most of its Quiscalus relatives) has been found to exhibit a scientifically significant attunation with a dynamic magnetic field.
- BirdLife International (2018). "Quiscalus quiscula". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2018.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
- Oberholser, Harry (October 1919). "Races of Quiscalus quiscula". The Auk. 36 (4): 549–555. doi:10.2307/4073352. JSTOR 4073352.
- "Quiscalus quiscula". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
- Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "New World warblers & oropendolas, Bananaquit". World Bird List Version 7.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
- Chapman, Frank (January 1935). "Further Remarks on the Relationships of the Grackles of the Subgenus Quiscalus". The Auk. 52 (1): 21–29. doi:10.2307/4077103. JSTOR 4077103.
- "Common Grackle". Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- "Quiscalus quiscula, common grackle". Animal Diversity Web.
- Strassburg, Matthew David (November 2011). The evaluation of Christmas Bird Counts as an indicator of population trends and habitat selection in blackbirds and starlings (PDF) (MSc). North Dakota State University. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
- "Murder Most Fowl". Time Magazine.
- "NATURAL AND INDUCED REMANENT MAGNETISM IN BIRDS" (PDF). The Auk. 109: 43–56. 1992 – via Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Oklahoma.
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