Those Flockers!

Well, it is a bit bittersweet, but we are officially back in the broke state of Illinois. Part of us misses the warm(ish) sun, soothing waves and inviting beaches we enjoy while on our southern stay. On the other hand, there is something comforting about being home even when the outside temps are struggling to get into double digits (hell, even above zero for that matter). What can I say, I like my “stuff”, ability to stretch out and not hit the side of the RV and, best of all, I finally get to play with my new Christmas gifts. Also helpful to have my larger screens for managing my blog duties. Need to get caught up on the 2023 Average Year (link here), but other than the updated travel video, the 2022 results/recaps are all finalized (link here).

The month of January was one busy birding month. With all the southern Texas locations and the travel to and from, the unofficial 2023 count already stands at 192. That means only 108 more to go in the next 11 months to hit the previously missed 300 threshold (technically 106 as I already picked off two easy ones at my feeders). Of course we all know it gets significantly harder as each one is ticked off. There is one particular bird I am glad is already checked for this year – one that my ears are very relieved are likely to be absent for some months until we head back into the Southwest.

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

Those that live in that region ALREADY know what our feature bird of the day is. That purplish shimmer, dagger of a bill and equally piercing yellow eyes conjure up images of psychological noise torture used throughout warfare history. There is a theory that the Israelites really used Great Tailed Grackles to bring down the walls of Jericho and not trumpets – UPDATE: our gaggle of curmudgeon lawyers that make life miserable for those of us here at Intrigued demand that I caveat my previous statement with “there are no facts to date supporting said theory”. Truth is they were trained to steer D11’s at the time and the reason many construction companies choose yellow as their base color – in tribute to the eyes of these early skilled soldiers/laborers.

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

While I sort things out with the lawyers, hit the jump to read more about these squawkers.

For those not familiar with this particular species of bird, they are quite common in the southwest. From our many trips in Texas, I can assure you they can be found on any stop in that state – rest stops, parking lots, campgrounds, parks, refuges, beaches, rivers etc. The damn things are everywhere, which wouldn’t be a huge problem if they’d shut up for more than 5 seconds at a time.

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

You might think you are at a tennis match with all that racket (thankfully we do not get paid for our puns ha). I have trouble articulating what their calls/sounds mimic – maybe something along the lines of a demonic carnival slide flute. I think Cornell might have the best description “calls so loud they were best heard at a distance”, “rusty gate hinge” and what might be the most accurate “machinery badly in need of lubrication”.

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

They always look pissed off by the way, so they are obviously annoying us humans on purpose – maybe some long running grudge for an inadvertent grade school joke liking them to a carnival flute or Cyrano with jaundice. Regardless of the superficial reason, they are still one angry dispositioned bird. This specimen was busy flexing its muscles at me while threatening bodily harm if I didn’t give him one of my Chicken McNuggets.

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

On the other hand, the female Great-Tailed Grackle is much more subdued both in attitude and coloring. They still sport the distinguishable yellow eye, but they prefer dressing in less threatening browns. Depending on the lighting, they can take on a variety of hues. The shot below is one of my favorites as the setting sun brought out beautiful golden tones that complimented the railing she was sitting on.

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

Note, all of these shots were taken last year at the new fishing pier towards the back of Goose Island State Park near Rockport, TX. Per the lighting comment, contrast the shot above with this next one. A little earlier in the day, light coming from the left rather than behind. Ever seen “The Strike” (also known as Two-Face” episode of the Seinfeld show? (link here)

Great-Tailed Grackle found at Goose Island State Park, Rockport, TX in January 2022

As you can see, the females are also significantly smaller than their male counterparts. From my observations, a lot less chatty as well. Granted, not say that much with this family of birds. Will leave you with a couple of other interesting facts about this species. It didn’t occur to me why at first, but the females tend to outnumber the males. Cornell’s theory is their smaller stature means less food requirements and thus more likely to survive than their larger brothers. Their other cool fact caused a shudder up my spine. These birds are serious flockers during the winter months gathering up to a half a million at a time in the Texas Rio Grande Valley sugarcane fields. Surprised there are any walls still standing down there hehehe.

Hope you enjoyed and stay safe everyone!

26 thoughts on “Those Flockers!”

  1. Welcome home! We saved a bit of cold weather for you. I also see the DON (Department of Obvious Names) was in full swing with the tail portion of the name.

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  2. That Grackle was quite a poser. The photos of that bad boy are fantastic. The other tweety birds are excellent as well. It’s always nice to be home no matter how broke the state is. Our legislature is in session making a full assault on so called assault weapons and the 2nd Amendment. If any of their crazy bills pass 80% of NM’s population will become felons.

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    1. You could say “poser” or you could say “pissed off posture”. I think they get even more pissed off when they see themselves reflected in my glass. I am well aware of the 2nd Amendment encroachment, we are going through the same crap here – luckily we have downstate judges that know how to interpret the latest Supreme Court ruling and put a full stop to our tax evading governor’s power grab. Fingers crossed it isn’t the tipping point for us to leave this state.

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  3. Lord, have mercy. I’d never heard of a Great Tailed Grackle until I moved to Texas. They are not in NC, VA or TN.

    I will never forget my first encounter. We had just arrived in Round Rock…July 2002. We stopped at a local grocery store before heading to our new house. I’d also never heard of H.E.B.s, either (FM620 & O’Conner). It was surreal. I’m in the parking lot, heading to go in and this noise…it sounded like breaking glass & screaming. I froze. I was almost dizzy. I remember thinking to myself…”what, the hell…” I’ve heard them many times sound like wind-up police sirens. They congregate like crows in trees and make all manner of racket.

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    1. NC, VA and TN should be so lucky ha! H.E.Bs were new to us as well – we also learned not all H.E.Bs are create equal (a couple of them ended up being a bit sketchy, but that is a story for a different time. I had to chuckle .. I also thought “what the hell” when Linda and I were startled by our first. I also like your reference to wind-up police sirens …nailed it! Luckily I don’t have to worry about those birds for a couple more months. Take care Vic, thanks for sharing your experience with this cranky bird.

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    1. Thanks Donna. Very happy with the Texas production this year – I’m now at 297 (correction, 197) with some easy ones close to home. Fingers crossed I can tin 103 in the next 11 months! Appreciate you dropping in.

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  4. They are so pretty when the sun is on them. 🙂 I remember the days of working and going south for the winter to take a break from the cold. Going back after a 2 week vacation was always depressing for us. I am loving not having to go back now, because I know there is over 4 feet of snow blanketing our cabin. I will see it in the spring time. 🙂

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    1. Linda and I were just remembering about our previous Texas trips while heading back on our most recent one. Like you, we used to be confined to two weeks – one week was free due to our manufacturing employer shutting down the week between Christmas and New Years and then using vacation for the second week and then drive back and go to work the very next day – muuuuuch more relaxing now that we are retired…not to mention the flexibility to adapt to any weather issues. We lucked out and the snow wasn’t that back upon our return, but I’m sure it is going to get much colder in the coming days/weeks. Thanks for dropping in and safe travels!

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  5. I remember encountering this bird in Dallas. It was in a Wal-Mart parking lot. My friend and I thought we were hearing a baby scream. Very unnerving.

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    1. That’s the bird! “Unnerving” is the perfect description. – and a perfect location to see them (along with every Gull in the state ha). Appreciate you coming by!

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  6. Good to hear you made it home safely. Cold, hot or other – little Dorothy had it right. “There’s no place like home!”

    It certainly sounds like you had a terrific trip.

    Thanks for highlighting one of my favorite birds! The “common” birds don’t often get much respect. The grackles have a unique beauty which you captured really well.

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    1. Yep, we made it – hit some nasty snow/ice when we were coming through Missouri, but not bad up to that point – our friends were heading down there as we were coming back and they got hit with really nasty ice storms all the way into Texas – got out of there just in time! Glad I could feature one of your favorites Wally – once you finally make it past all their noise, they are rather pretty as they shimmer in the sun – except when looking straight on though, I left those shots out as they can look quite wicked .. didn’t want to frighten my readers. Thanks for dropping in, appreciate it.

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  7. I’ll say one thing, Grackles have survival down pat. There doesn’t seem to be an environment or climate condition anywhere in their range in which they are uncomfortable. Your photos do them credit – they’re looking quite spiffy!

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    1. Excellent point! Like the House Sparrow, they have adapted to just about every condition – note, Ron and I refer to them as McHouse Sparrows as there isn’t a Golden Arch anywhere in the country you can’t find one that has taken up residence. Also on the plus side for these Grackles is they can mask a lot of my unwanted noises when out in the field – for the targets to hear me coming they have to cut through the shrill ha! Thanks for dropping in Sam, hope you are feeling better these days.

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    1. Absolutely agree, I feel like making a petition to get some of the other birds renamed to be equally easy to distinguish.. don’t even get me started on the Ring-Necked Duck ha! There is an issue even with this Grackle species as the Boat-Tailed are equally impressive, luckily, those have a black eye instead of that yellow. Thanks for dropping in, always appreciate it.

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