Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

From Whole Foods to Central Market: Ketchup, mustard, water, and a grackle

with 61 comments

Grackle with Ketchup and Mustard 6414

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.

In case you’re wondering whether this was a one-legged grackle, it wasn’t. The bird’s left foot was in the tray, whose rim blocked it from view at this angle, just as part of the bird’s right leg concealed part of its left.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 6, 2015 at 5:09 AM

61 Responses

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  1. Bold and clever. This one looks as though it is considering piercing the bottle to access some ketchup.


    October 6, 2015 at 5:28 AM

    • It may look that way, but I think the bird was smart enough to know it wouldn’t be well rewarded by doing that. But who knows? Maybe if the tray hadn’t offered easier pickings, the grackle would have started drilling for ketchup.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2015 at 7:27 AM

  2. Love the name “grackles”! They look like a small, skinny version of our crows but more entertaining. I just read your link to “Eight Reasons Grackles are Awesome” from your other post. A highly entertaining read. What strange noises they can make! 🙂


    October 6, 2015 at 5:48 AM

  3. Fine dining, Grackle-style.

    Steve Gingold

    October 6, 2015 at 6:08 AM

  4. I love our grackles. They’re just as bold and in-your-face as your photo shows, and they’re perfectly willing to put up with the invasive species they know as people. A pair nested near a boat I was working on this summer, and I had no end of amusement watching full-sized youngsters nag their parents for food, even though they were perfectly capable of getting it for themselves. Maybe they were nagging for condiments.

    When I re-read the Texas Monthly article you linked, I got quite a surprise. Lou Vest (who provided the grackle-in-flight photo from Cartagena) graciously allowed me to use one of his Houston Ship Channel photos in my blog and in print. As thick as the grackles can be around here, he may even have a photo of one on the bow of one of his ships.


    October 6, 2015 at 7:16 AM

    • I’m glad you didn’t hold the identity of the grackle-in-flight photograph close to the vest, but chose the openness brought on by a pleasant surprise.

      When I got to your third sentence, I initially misread it to say that the grackles had nested on a boat, and now I’m wondering how often that happens (assuming it happens at all). You also spoke of nagging for condiments, and the sound of the word nagging made me think of the similar-sounding begging. That in turn made me think of the people begging at highway intersections in Austin. I’ve sometimes seen a person give food rather than money, and I wondered what the reaction would be if somebody gave a bottle of ketchup or mustard. A strange thought, but my brain hasn’t been awake all that long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2015 at 8:06 AM

  5. Delightful capture.

    Intricate Knot

    October 6, 2015 at 12:19 PM

    • The patio behind Central Market is a playground for these birds, so I think anyone who sat there with a long lens for a while would get some good poses.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2015 at 12:33 PM

      • Very self-effacing of you. I do have to disagree, because not everyone observes. Often it seems people are too busy taking selfies to see what else might be going on around them! lol

        Intricate Knot

        October 6, 2015 at 3:34 PM

        • You may have a point. I’ve frequented Central Market and Whole Foods many times over the years but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone else taking pictures of these birds there.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 6, 2015 at 4:26 PM

  6. Our Grackles are native to the Caribbean, they are smaller than the American ones, they are called “Quiscalus lugubris”; but they display the same cunning and bold behaviour as yours. Extremely intelligent and use their beaks as real tools. They will strike you if you walk wearing something shiny like a metal watch or trespass their territories. They are nicknamed “changos” here; which means a joker or little rascal.

    Maria F.

    October 6, 2015 at 4:15 PM

  7. A estas aves no se les escapa nada relacionado con la comida… de los demás. No importa donde, siempre merodean. ¡Estupenda foto!

    • Me gusta la pausa y luego “de los demás.” No conocía el verbo merodear, pero con el contexto me di cuenta que debe ser lo mismo que el maraud del inglés. Después hice la comprobación: ambos vienen del francés.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2015 at 4:44 PM

  8. This is a great shot Steve


    October 6, 2015 at 7:40 PM

  9. I love Grackles- such clever and noisy birds! Wonderful photo


    October 6, 2015 at 7:41 PM

  10. Wonderful image .. did he get anything to eat? 🙂


    October 6, 2015 at 11:27 PM

    • Yes. It’s hard to tell at this picture size, but there’s a trace of some food in the tip of the bird’s bill.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2015 at 4:29 AM

  11. I thought it was a quirky table decoration!


    October 7, 2015 at 7:44 AM

  12. Love it!


    October 7, 2015 at 1:41 PM

  13. We had a very similar encounter in Finland–it wasn’t a grackle, but another bird who seemed attracted by condiments.

    Susan Scheid

    October 9, 2015 at 2:21 PM

    • We might finish the Finnish bird tale by saying it was paying its compliments to the condiments.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2015 at 2:29 PM

  14. I’ve heard grackles (and seagulls and house sparrows) referred to as ‘rats with wings.’ Could NOT be further from the truth! They are quite the successful opportunists, adapting easily to a distinctly human-made world. I think them to be smarter than we give them credit for. Here’s one with a little Cheeto face (thanks to my kids). https://dirtnkids.smugmug.com/2015-Birding/i-fvZTmzL

    Glad you got it straight about the leg. I was gonna ask…


    October 10, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    • I guess the notion of “rats with wings” came from the fact that rats are also successful opportunists.

      That’s a good closeup of a grackle that you linked to. How close (and with what sort of lens) were you?

      As for the “missing” leg, I didn’t initially notice it, but while I was preparing the post I did, so I thought I should offer an explanation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 10, 2015 at 5:56 PM

      • Thanks, Steve.. You may or may not know that I don’t post-process images (JPG straight from the camera) for lack of time, so he was shot with the big glass (Tamron 150mm-600mm) from about 15 feet away. Made for a decent head shot, and he was quite cooperative — for Cheetos.


        October 10, 2015 at 8:38 PM

        • That sounds like one mighty (and mighty heavy) lens. I assume you have it set up on a tripod just waiting for visitors.

          I can understand JPG as a time-saver, but if your camera allows it, I’d encourage you to set it for RAW + JPG, so that you have the JPG for immediate use yet will also be able at some future time to go back and get the best quality from the RAW files.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 10, 2015 at 8:53 PM

          • Great advice; I shoot JPG+RAW and just store all the images until such a time when I can ‘play’ with software a bit more.

            It is heavy and no tripod. When I’m birding, I wear it on a harness. I have some serious arm (and neck) muscles because of it. 😀


            October 10, 2015 at 8:59 PM

            • More power to you (figuratively and literally) if you don’t use a tripod.

              Another reason to keep RAW files is that the software (I use Photoshop) keeps improving. I can get more out of a years-old RAW file now than I could when I took the picture.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 10, 2015 at 9:03 PM

              • Speaking of habitat loss, I saw a bobcat on our street this evening — for the third time since June. (Probably two different animals.) He is strong and healthy and appears to have settled in for the long run. Really makes me sad what we are doing in the name of human development.


                October 10, 2015 at 9:07 PM

                • If you want to get a detailed account of the long-term diminishment of once-enormous animal numbers in North America, check out Paradise Found, by Steve Nicholls, which I’m reading now.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 10, 2015 at 9:13 PM

                • I just added the book to my cart. And if you have an hour, you might like to listen to this program called “One Square Inch of Silence” about habitat loss, noise pollution in particular; great program, Hempton’s book is good too.


                  October 10, 2015 at 10:03 PM

                • I just listened to the hour-long interview. The biggest surprise came at the end, when the interviewer added an update saying that Gordon Hempton had lost most of his hearing. That reminded me of Beethoven. The equivalent for me as a photographer would be to lose my sight, something horrible to think about.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  October 12, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    • Great-tailed Grackle

      Try this. Not sure what happened. Thanks for the kind notify!


      December 1, 2018 at 6:25 AM

  15. A great image and pose. The one in P.R. is smaller. I will send you a link sometime with a photo so you can see it.


    February 9, 2018 at 7:40 AM

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