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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Cackling grackles

Have you ever wondered about that little black bird that looks and acts a bit like a small crow? Most likely, you’ve spotted a common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula). 

Grackles are recognizable as a robin sized black bird with iridescent shine to their feathers and harsh screeching and clicking calls. Although sometimes mistaken for crows, they are smaller and shaped more like a black songbird. Like crows, they have a variety of harsh calls and are also known to imitate noises they hear. 

You might spot grackles hopping around a field in the Arb or on the bald spot, where they forage for seeds and insects. Large groups (called plagues) will gather and forage together, strutting around fields looking for prey. Sprouting seeds are one of their favorite foods, so they are a particular pest to farmers. Creative and intelligent, they will often follow plows eating grubs they churn up and have even been spotted stealing worms from robins. Grackles also have a saw-like ridge on the inside of their beaks, a unique adaptation that allows them to eat acorns:. They pick up acorns in their beaks and saw into them with this ridge to open the nuts’ hard shell. They will even rotate the nut all the way around in their beak to saw all the way around, then crack it open and eat the soft nut inside! 

One very interesting behavior that they share with many other birds is called anting, where they will lie on an anthill and let the ants crawl over them. The ants secrete formic acid, which repels lice. Grackles have also been observed rubbing other plants that are insect repellent, such as marigold and chokecherry, on their feathers. 

Next time you hear a squeaky little black bird, stop and see if it’s up to any interesting mischief! 

A juvenile common grackle. Adults are typically darker and have a glossy bluish head
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