They are usually looked down upon by birders in urban settings because of their occasional harassment of other backyard birds, their off-key singing and the abundant fecal droppings that large flocks can leave behind in areas where they roost. In rural areas, the disdain for grackles is even stronger because of the damage they can do to crops.
Species: Common grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
Claim to fame: Common grackles, which many people simply call blackbirds, are (as their name implies) common throughout Missouri in both rural and urban areas. They are usually looked down upon by birders in urban settings because of their occasional harassment of other backyard birds, their off-key singing and the abundant fecal droppings that large flocks can leave behind in areas where they roost. In rural areas, the disdain for grackles is even stronger because of the damage they can do to crops. Grackles are year-round residents of Missouri.
Species status: Common grackle populations are stable throughout Missouri. Originally a creature of the eastern U.S., grackles are now expanding their range westward. In the past 200 years, humans have aided this spread by clearing forests and increasing the acres of crop fields, which supplies a plentiful food source for grackles.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the common grackle was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
Family matters: The common grackle belongs to bird family Icteridae, which means they are close relatives of meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds. Within this family, common grackles are members of the genus Quiscala, a group of species known as the grackles. There are six species of grackles found in the New World, five of which have ranges that are primarily in South America, Central America and the southern parts of the American Southwest.
Length: 11 inches to 13 inches
Diet: Common grackles have a varied diet. It includes insects, grains, nuts, fruit, acorns, small vertebrates, bird eggs and nestlings of other species.
Weight: three ounces to five ounces
Distinguishing characteristics: Common grackles are black overall and have a long tail. In sunlight, grackles sometimes have a purplish-blue or bluish-green iridescence. The call of the male grackle is something akin to the sound of a squeaking, rusty gate. One of the more interesting grackle characteristics is the bird’s ability to mimic human speech. Another common trait is its habit of congregating in huge flocks. The main reason for the formation of these large flocks is probably that there’s safety in numbers. The more eyes there are, the easier it is to spot predators. Also, some predators will be scared off by flock’s immensity. Large flocks of grackles can, on occasion, pose problems for humans. It should be remembered grackles are protected under the same federal wildlife laws that protect songbirds and other non-game bird species. People having trouble with grackles should contact the nearest Missouri Department of Conservation office.
Life span: A grackle was known to have lived 22 years, but the life span of most in the wild is undoubtedly much less than this.
Habitat: In pre-settlement times, common grackles probably preferred primarily open areas that were lightly timbered with coniferous trees. Now, the bird has adapted to a number of rural and urban human-influenced habitats.
Life cycle: The mating season begins in spring and continues throughout much of the summer. Nests are commonly built in evergreen trees anywhere from two to 12 feet off the ground. The female lays two to six eggs in the cup-shaped nest and incubates the eggs for 13-14 days. The young fledge 16-20 days after hatching.