Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Grackles en masse

with 31 comments

Grackles on Wires and Flying 9342

In the last post I talked about the way the grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) used to congregate in large numbers on the power lines at US 183 and Braker Ln. at sundown each day in autumn. Because they’re not doing that this year, I showed a photograph from 2011, but it was a picture of a single bird. For the benefit of viewers who weren’t flocking to this blog a year ago, here’s another photograph from December 7, 2011, one that shows the masses of birds that used to congregate here.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 8, 2012 at 6:18 AM

31 Responses

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  1. You know, if you stitched together this photo with the previous photo, it would be remarkably easy to imagine these grackles congregating to venerate the one that had been elevated. While it doesn’t work etymologically, word-play-wise it certainly adds a layer of meaning to them “massing” together!


    December 8, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    • You’ve got a novel foray into the imagination there. Good of you to point out that the religious word Mass is unrelated to the verb mass that means ‘congregrate,’ even though Mass is celebrated by a congregation. Some coincidences are just that, coincidences. Whether the mass of grackles lead lives of quiet desperation, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2012 at 11:12 AM

  2. Bird Swarms are interesting to me – have seen one over the ocean and it was various bird species.


    December 8, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    • I wish I more often saw the high degree of coordination that masses of birds in rapid flight can exhibit. I did see it a few times with these grackles, but in the dimming light I found no way to capture that movement. If the birds come back next year, I hope to get more chances.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2012 at 11:16 AM

  3. The sunset provided a perfect gradient background for the near silhouette of the birds. Your static image of many grackles does not cause me concern. 😉


    December 8, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    • That’s a good photographic word: gradient. In my answer to the previous comment, I just replied that I’ve seen the grackles in rapid and massive flight. They moved like a sheet being being quickly shaken, but they were high enough that I don’t think they would have caused you any anxiety. For the most part, given the limitations of the low light, I ended up with static images last year and the year before. I recently got a camera that responds to low light with greater sensitivity and less noise than my previous camera, and I’d hoped to try out the new camera on the grackles, but they didn’t show up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2012 at 11:24 AM

  4. That photo looks like it could have been taken where I live. The grackles seem to congregate in thousands at an intersection, about two miles from where I live. I have no idea what trees they eventually move to but there are quite a few planted live oak trees around a near by spread out shopping district.


    December 8, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    • I’m glad your grackles are still putting on mass displays that you can go to see. Perhaps the grackles in Austin that used to flock to my neighborhood have settled in a different part of town, but I don’t know. It was so convenient when they were near my home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2012 at 6:09 PM

      • Thanks for the reply. It is odd that the grackles moved to another location. I wonder what could be the reason. If time permits maybe you can ask an ornithologist sp? I am curious also..


        December 8, 2012 at 6:40 PM

        • You’re welcome. I did some searching online for grackles in Austin but I didn’t find anything about the current season. Maybe an ornithologist is in order.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2012 at 11:02 PM

  5. I’ve observed similar behavior with the seagulls along the James River. They disappear for the summer, come back for the winter (the river does not freeze over) and congregate in a similar mass. They’re big, noisy and messy too.


    December 8, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    • “Big, noisy and messy” is a good description of the grackles as well. Even in 2010 and 2011 the Austin grackles departed by mid-December, but what puzzles me this year is that they didn’t stay here for the couple of months leading up to that winter departure, as they’d previously done.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 8, 2012 at 8:58 PM

      • It makes you wonder about the weather, doesn’t it? Our summer robins are gone, but the winter ones aren’t here yet. I’m wondering if they went further south. They should be here by now. We also had an unusual amount of wrens this year during migration.


        December 8, 2012 at 10:38 PM

        • I’ve observed that things can vary a lot from year to year, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the grackles are behaving differently in 2012. Cold weather is forecast for this coming week, so we’ll see if that makes any difference.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 8, 2012 at 11:05 PM

  6. Am puzzled by the abundance of males (the ones with the long tails) in comparison to females.

    As for their gathering at this spot, it’s just a way-station to the trees where they would have congregated for the night, so if that site changed, so would this. And as patrons of the Hancock Center H.E.B. are probably aware, the flock that spent the night there has been chased away by some kind of bird calls being broadcast loudly and constantly, at least between 8 and 9:30 p.m.. They don’t sound like the ordinary grackle cries, but could be their warning signals. Or, of some avian predator.


    December 8, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    • You’re correct that the power lines were a way-station to the trees where the grackles spent the night. In this case those were primarily the planted trees alongside the elevated portion of US 183 where it crosses Braker Ln. Even with thousands of cars passing by slightly above them, and lesser number below them on the northbound access road, the birds spent the night in those trees, where they grew silent themselves not long after roosting there, and in contrast to their noisiness until that time. The tree are still there, but for whatever reason they’ve remained empty of birds these last couple of months. As far as I’ve observed, no one has been playing any bird calls to scare away the grackles. The mystery persists.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2012 at 8:18 AM

  7. Hope the birds return again another year, it’s a spectacular sight to see huge roosts.

    Emily Heath

    December 10, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    • Yes, it is a spectacular sight. One of the lessons I learned when I started doing nature photography is that things can change a lot in the same place from one year to the next. Let’s hope for the grackles’ return in 2013.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 10, 2012 at 6:49 AM

  8. Amazing picture, I love it. I came from “oneowner”.. he said you had a beautiful blog on wildlife.. so here I am


    December 10, 2012 at 5:33 AM

  9. Impressionante cette vue 🙂


    December 10, 2012 at 8:30 AM

  10. Couldn’t help but think of Alfred Hitchock’s ” The Birds” 🙂 Cool shot.

    Brian Comeau

    December 10, 2012 at 7:33 PM

  11. Incroyable !


    December 11, 2012 at 4:08 AM

  12. […] July 6th I went to see the spectacle, and of course to photograph it. This made up for the lack of grackles in my neighborhood last […]

  13. Hmmm, I can see how a mass like this one could create quite a mess. I wouldn’t want to be standing under these wires at Grackle-time.


    August 14, 2015 at 6:12 AM

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