Animal Science Blog

Animal Science

The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world.

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The Cackling Grackle Migration

Posted October 07, 2009 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

What's a bird to do when the weather turns cool and fall foliage begins to drop? For many species of birds, the answer is to migrate south for the winter!

I was at work one cool, gray morning when I heard a harsh chirping outside the window. I saw a few dozen black birds hopping around and foraging in the grass under the oak trees outside the office. Moments later, that number doubled! At first glance, they looked like a species similar to the Brewer's blackbird (which I later discovered does not reach N.Y.). Some Internet research led me to discover they are common grackles.

The Grackle

This bird, a member of the same family as the blackbird, has a shiny green or purple head and yellow eyes. As I discovered by watching out my window, grackles eat just about anything – many of them were foraging for acorns and sifting through fallen pine needles for whatever they could find.

Grackles can be found just about anywhere in the U.S., with the exception of the west coast. They are noisy chatterers and tend to travel in large groups. Colonies of grackles may contain as many as 10 to 100 pairs.


These noisy birds are considered pests for more reasons than their considerable volume. Grackles eat just about anything, but love grains and seeds – especially corn. The large colony size can put a considerable dent in a crop in a small amount of time. They are also aggressive toward other birds.

While some grackles do not migrate, others spend warm winters in the southeastern U.S.

Protected Pests?

Grackles are not a protected species, but they are in decline. In the past 40 years, their numbers have decreased by 61%. There are about 73 million grackles throughout the world today compared to 190 million 40 years ago. That's a lot of grackles!

Many bird watchers try to deter grackles from their feeders because they bully other more desired birds away. Some tips for keeping grackles away from feeders include:

  • Don't give them a landing space/perch
  • Feed thistle seed or sunflower hearts
  • Don't feed suet

Why might we want to keep an eye on the grackle population? Despite the fact that they eat everything in sight and bother other birds, grackles have a few positive points. Mainly, they eat lots of insects including grubs, ants, beetles, and caterpillars. Think of it as free and green lawn protection! In most cases, grackles are just pests that are passing through for a few days.



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Engineering Fields - Aerospace Engineering - Member United States - Member - Army Vet in the aviation industry

Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: Bridgewater, Va.
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Re: The Cackling Grackle Migration

10/09/2009 2:41 PM

I live in a small town just on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Harrisonburg, Va. We have grackles around all the time (this is a registered bird sanctuary) and, while annoying at times, usually provide a lot of comic relief. Their antics, especially when raising young, are absolutely hilarious. When they get too annoying I just sit out back about 10-15 feet from the feeders and they stay away. That's when the little birds really take full advantage of the empty feeders.

On another note, we had an invasion of starlings a couple of weeks ago. They would night in the Shenandoah National Park and in the morning fly west to the corn fields, sometimes stopping to graze the local lawns. In the evening they would fly back east to roost in the Park. I was amazed at the amount of starlings. There were thousands upon thousands traveling back and forth. Reminded me of the early settlers' accounts of huge bird flocks that would literally block out the sun as they passed by. Occasionally they would take a "rest break" in the trees around my house and the noise would be overwhelming, putting the grackles to shame.

In any case, if the grackles are losing population, it wold seem that the starlings are making up for it.


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