Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Grackle with head up

with 22 comments

Grackle with Head Up 9652

The Whole Foods parking lot is a good place to see great-tailed grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, and on June 29th I found this one on the ground by the picnic tables just outside the Gateway store. Birds of this species seem to like sticking their heads up into the air to try to lord it over any would-be rival, which is what this grackle might have taken me for. Or maybe it mistook my camera, with its long lens, for the rival.

If you’d like to read a lighthearted and informative article about grackles, here’s one from Texas Monthly by John Nova Lomax entitled “Eight Reasons Grackles Are Awesome.”

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2015 at 4:56 AM

22 Responses

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  1. What a wonderful shot! He certainly looks as though he is saying “Suck tummy in, stick tail feathers out, is this my best side?”


    August 13, 2015 at 5:07 AM

  2. Down here, we call them boat-tailed grackles, but it’s the same bird. They’re smart, funny, and infinitely interesting. There’s nothing more fun than watching a pair of males trying to point higher than one another, all the while making their screechy racket.

    It’s especially nice that you captured the iridescence of the feathers. They really are handsome birds.


    August 13, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    • Given your location by the coast, it’s not surprising to hear that people there call these grackles boat-tailed. In looking at the long tail feathers of this one now, I can imagine the hull of a boat.

      The iridescence of these birds’ feathers makes them all the more photogenic. I’ll have to see if I can get a closer picture of that one of these days. I’ve also yet to get a photograph of the wings-pulled-up-like-an-outspread-cape stance that I take to be part of the males’ courtship ritual.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2015 at 7:36 AM

  3. We call them boat-tailed here, as well and they are very aggressive little beasts. However your photograph lets me get past my prejudices and appreciate his beauty.


    August 13, 2015 at 7:53 AM

    • Hmmm: do I detect any hostility in your description of “very aggressive little beasts”? Sounds like you’ve had some run-ins with them. The main problem I’m aware of that people have with them is en masse, when they soon mess up an area and make it stinky. In groups they can also make a lot of noise. Let’s hear it, then, for individualism.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2015 at 9:00 AM

      • Indeed! They used to dive-bomb my cat. Who, arguably, should have been indoors in the first place. But still.


        August 13, 2015 at 9:02 AM

        • Couldn’t a cat lunge up and make quick work of a grackle?

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 13, 2015 at 9:10 AM

          • I think it would be a bloody draw if she tried. She always made a run for it. Interestingly, she never acknowledged snakes. Mice didn’t stand a chance with her, but snakes could slither right under her nose and she refused to notice. I always thought that was odd.


            August 13, 2015 at 9:15 AM

  4. I would have hit the ‘unlike’ button today!! Your photo is spectacular but I hate these intrusive noisemakers and nothing in the ‘8 reasons’ changed my mind. These pests have driven all the beautuful songbirds from two of my neighborhoods and one of my favorite summer hangouts. All those lovely morning melodies have been silenced by their bullying nature. Now I wonder if they’ve done the same in Austin !

    Sammy D.

    August 13, 2015 at 9:00 AM

  5. A timely reminder to keep one’s long lenses under cover and/or out of sight when the grackles are mobbing. Thanks for the heads-up.


    August 13, 2015 at 5:33 PM

    • I was being a bit facetious about the long lens stirring up rivalry in a grackle, but then you struck a similar tone in your thanks for a heads-up. In this case the lens was a 70–200mm zoom with a 1.4x extender. That’s the longest I have, but nothing compared to what birders lug around in their arsenal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 13, 2015 at 7:26 PM

  6. The plumage and the behaviour remind me of our common starling. The starling is not my favourite bird but I do admire its sheen and its cleverness.


    August 14, 2015 at 6:20 AM

    • Grackles can gather in large numbers, as you’ve seen, but starlings can form huger groups called murmurations. I don’t know the relative cleverness of the two types of birds, but from what you say, the sheen is common to both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 14, 2015 at 7:36 AM

      • I have not been fortunate enough to see a starling murmuration in my neighborhood. At the most I see a half dozen starlings at a time.


        August 14, 2015 at 8:08 AM

  7. No boat tails hereabouts…just the common grackle. But ours have the same iridescence when the sun hits them just right. But even without the iridescence, their coloration is always a nice treat. Of course, treat is a qualified description of their presence as they are excellent at emptying a feeder in the blink or two of an eye…or two. Fortunately, all they do is point up in display.

    Don’t blink….

    Steve Gingold

    August 15, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    • I’d say the iridescence is their most appealing feature, speaking visually (which is how I often think about them). I don’t know how the local grackles behave at feeders (I don’t have one), but they love to stake out parking lots of supermarkets to get the bits of food that people throw away or accidentally drop. (That raises the question of why there’s so much food in parking lots.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 15, 2015 at 8:46 PM

  8. […] The last time you saw a grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus, it was one I photographed on the ground outside the Gateway Whole Foods on June 29th. On September 21st I found myself sitting on the patio behind the Central Market on N. Lamar, where I saw more grackles than on the visit to Whole Foods. At one point a woman at a nearby table stood up and walked away to get something, and within seconds this grackle flew in to see what it could find to eat. Bold birds, these grackles. […]

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