Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

The Common Grackle

I like animals and birds that have adapted to man's alteration of the natural environment. Very often they are the scruffs and the toughs of the wild, the ones that seem ordinary because they are so common. But they are common for a reason; they have looked at the changes humanity has made and worked out how best to use them to their own advantage.

So I respect and admire the mice and rats, the sparrows and the gulls, even the pigeons that seem hardly fitted to a life in the real wild. These are the creatures that have refused to lie down and die in the face of our rampages through nature; not for them the meek and pathetic eking out of an existence in some constantly threatened corner of nature. No, they have decided to use us to make their lives easier.

In Britain, one of the best known of these opportunists of nature is the starling. Here is a bird that looks the part of tough, devil-may-care exploiter of humanity. Starlings always look slightly scruffy, as though preening was for the effete of the bird world, yet they strut around in supreme confidence that our buildings and regimented gardens were invented entirely for their use. To see a gang of them arrive on your lawn and walk around stiff-legged with hands behind backs like city gents on important business can only make you smile at their cheek. Good luck to them, say I.

We have starlings in Oklahoma. I enjoy the fact that they are immigrants like me; introduced into New York City in 1890, they have spread throughout the States like true opportunists. As I watch them assemble in strings along the telephone wires now that winter approaches, I am reminded of similar sights in England.

Yet the starling is not the lord of his niche here. In Oklahoma that position is occupied by a bird even more numerous and villainous-looking: the grackle. What a delightful name that is and how expressive of the character of its owner. It is not as scruffy as the starling but shares the same habits, gathering in gangs to push other birds off the sidewalk, strutting around human spaces as though it owns them and accepting discarded hamburgers as its due. Add to this its greater size and longer tail, its dark coloring and golden, staring and slightly crazed eye, and you have a superstarling, a bird just made to take advantage of its environment, no matter how we alter it. And, of course, being American, it has a much louder voice than the starling and is not ashamed to use it.

Interestingly, the grackle does not seem to resent the competition inherent in the arrival of the starling. I have seen gangs of both birds going about their business in a field, intermingling without animosity. I can only presume that either the grackle is so confident of its superiority that it sees no need to assert it or it is demonstrating the traditional American acceptance of immigrants. The starling is not from Mexico, after all.

Human Americans do not notice the grackle at all. I have conducted a little research into this and found that most do not even know what kind of bird it is. It has become part of the background, so common as to be completely unremarkable.

But I like it already. To see one in a crowded supermarket car park, pecking at the remains of a half-eaten bun, and to note how it looks up at me with its beady eye, daring me to interfere and unafraid, is to recognize the existence of a true survivor, one who accepts the new landscape of concrete and asphalt with a shrug of its shoulders and a sneer, before returning to its own affairs. It makes me smile and say, "Go on, you old thug, I don't want your bread. Enjoy."

Quite rightly, we become concerned about animals that are near extinction. I would rejoice with everyone else if the Tasmanian wolf were found to be still alive in the tangled bush of the west of that island. But let's spare a thought, too, for the creatures that don't need our help, those that have taken what we've made and prospered through adaptability and intelligence. If nothing else, they are worthy of our respect.

Technorati tags: ; .


Some animal believed extinct turned up recently in Tasmania, I can't remember what it was but it wasn't the wolf. Shame...
Date Added: 26/11/2005

Gone Away
I know there was a fuss recently because someone had taken a photo of what seemed to be a Tazzy wolf. But it wasn't conclusive, apparently, so the jury's still out.
Date Added: 27/11/2005

Oh, well obviously I like anything about birds. :)
Date Added: 27/11/2005

Gone Away
Glad you liked it, Twelve - birds are my ummm favorite flying things. :D
Date Added: 27/11/2005

Clive: This was a good read for a Sunday morning. The grackle is a particular favorite of mine, and I find their antics amusing as they go about foraging. You describe their fearlessness well. A few years back, my cat happened upon several grackles that were in the yard. When it tried to select one for an afternoon snack, it found out very quickly just how nasty a bird they can be. After a couple of quick strafing runs that resulted in several pecks on the head, it changed his mind and made a beeline for the house. Scot
Date Added: 27/11/2005

Gone Away
Sounds just like the plovers that used to annoy my Staffie bitch in Zim, Scot. For years she plotted to catch one of the dive bombers but they were too quick for her. ;)
Date Added: 27/11/2005

The Grackle huh. Are you sure it exhists? it sounds like a cuning tv ad for breakfast cereal to me.....New zoomflop now with added Grackle'. On the subject of animals though get yer butt over to my site (shameless plug) http://www.keeefer.blogspot.com and give me your ideas for names please.
Date Added: 28/11/2005

Gone Away
Great name, you must admit, Keef. But I'll be right over to your place... ;)
Date Added: 28/11/2005

Hi, nice blog... interesting information, congratulations!
Date Added: 29/11/2005

Gone Away
Thanks, Mike.
Date Added: 29/11/2005

Apparently birds are the true descendants of dinosaurs. From your description, Clive, the grackle seems typical of his kin. I agree with you. I recently had a close encounter with a seagull chick which had fallen into my garden and couldn't fly out. Its mother came and taught it how to fly out. She could see I was feeding and watering it and adapted to that situation. Rita, as I called the chick, flew out on her third day there. I'm always amazed at how intelligent animals are. In their niche they're as smart as we are.
Date Added: 29/11/2005

Gone Away
I followed the story of Rita as it happened, John. And it does illustrate how some creatures seem much tougher than others. Most would have abandoned their offspring in similar circumstances, but not the wily old seagull. :)
Date Added: 29/11/2005

Scheesh Clive - A half hour at least to go through the links, your post, a run through Keefers post, read all the comments, a bathroom run in the middle (yes, I did wash my hands.) and now hunting and pecking this comment. I'm a busy man. Don't you ever do this to me again.

Just kidding of course. Keep it up. If I don't have time to visit, I'll make time. Hmmm. Making time. There is an idea for a story. Have at it. -(:P)
Date Added: 02/12/2005

Gone Away
I know the feeling, Paul. My list of blogs to visit has become so long that I just can't get around them all in a day so I have to visit when I can. I guess we're going to have to say hello when our paths cross... ;)
Date Added: 02/12/2005

Back to the main blog

Have your say

You may use HTML in comments. A carriage return is <br />, use two for a new paragraph. For bold text use <strong></strong> and for italic text use <em></em>. If you know what you're doing feel free to use more complex mark-up but please no deprecated tags or JavaScript.

Name *

Comment *

Email *


Commenting has closed for this post


Plan your next journey with
Price Comparison UK
Copyright disclaimersXHTML 1.0CCS2RSS for news aggregators