Birds – Purple Grackle

(Quiscalus quiscula) Blackbird family

Called also : CROW BLACKBIRD ; MAIZE THIEF ; KEEL TAILED GRACKLE

Length—12 to 13 inches. About one-fourth as large again as the robin.

Male—Iridescent black, in which metallic violet, blue, copper, and green tints predominate. The plumage of this grackle has iridescent bars. Iris of eye bright yellow and conspicuous. Tail longer than wings.

Female—Less brilliant black than male, and smaller.

Range—Gulf of Mexico to 57th parallel north latitude. Migrations—Permanent resident in Southern States. Few are permanent throughout range. Migrates in immense flocks in March and September.

This “refined crow” (which is really no crow at all except in appearance) has scarcely more friends than a thief is entitled to ; for, although in many sections of the country it has given up its old habit of stealing Indian corn and substituted ravages upon the grasshoppers instead, it still indulges a crow-like instinct for pillaging nests and eating young birds.

Travelling in immense flocks of its own kind, a gregarious bird of the first order, it nevertheless is not the social fellow that its cousin, the red-winged blackbird, is. It especially holds aloof from mankind, and mankind reciprocates its suspicion.

The tallest, densest evergreens are not too remote for it to build its home, according to Dr. Abbott, though in other States than New Jersey, where he observed them, an old orchard often contains dozens of nests. One peculiarity of the grackles is that their eggs vary so much in coloring and markings that different sets examined in the same groups of trees are often wholly unlike. The average groundwork, however, is soiled blue or greenish, waved, streaked, or clouded with brown. These are laid in a nest made of miscellaneous sticks and grasses, rather carefully constructed, and lined with mud. Another peculiarity is the bird’s method of steering itself by its tail when it wishes to turn its direction or alight.

Peering at you from the top of a dark pine tree with its staring yellow eye, the grackle is certainly uncanny. There, very early in the spring, you may hear its cracked and wheezy whistle, for, being aware that however much it may look like a crow it belongs to another family, it makes a ridiculous attempt to sing. When a number of grackles lift up their voices at once, some one has aptly likened the result to a “good wheel-barrow chorus !” The. grackle’s mate alone appreciates his efforts. as, standing on tiptoe, with half-spread wings and tail, he pours forth his craven soul to her through a disjointed larynx.

With all their faults, and they are numerous, let it be re-corded of both crows and grackles that they are as devoted lovers as turtle-doves. Lowell characterizes them in these four lines :

” Just come the black birds, clatt’rin’ in tall trees, And settlin’ things in windy Congresses ; Queer politicians, though, for I’ll be skinned If all on ‘em don’t head against the wind.”

The Bronzed Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula aeneus) differs from the preceding chiefly in the more brownish bronze tint of its plumage and its lack of iridescent bars. Its range is more westerly, and in the southwest it is particularly common ; but as a summer resident it finds its way to New England in large numbers. The call-note is louder and more metallic than the purple grackle’s. In nearly all respects the habits of these two birds are identical.