When Grackles Attack


Women won’t walk alone through the intersection of Chase Street and Trinity Place in West Palm Beach anymore. There have been assaults, merciless attacks… by birds. According to a WPBF report, nearly a dozen residents have been assaulted by a winged rebel intent on pecking, squawking, following, and other ruthless acts of, you know, being a bird.

Grackles will often divebomb humans to protect their young, so this comes as no suprise this time of year – at least to those of us on the no-hit-list. Grackles defend their nests fiercely by mobbing, chasing or diving. In winter, they join large flocks of mixed species such as European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds. These flocks can exceed one million birds!

Corvids such as Crows and Ravens (and sometimes Blue Jays) have been observed attempting to steal eggs or hatchlings from a grackle nest and paying dearly for it – this is one black bird that is not to be messed with.

The Grackle is not directly related to the Crow or the Raven (it is an Icterid and not a Corvid), but does posses a measure of their intelligence. Grackles have a unique habit of taking hardened pieces of bread or dog food and dipping them in water and eating them after they have softened, a practice they then teach to their young.

Defending their young so fiercely does come into sharp contrast with some Grackle’s poor nesting habits – Caribbean Grackles are  known to simply abandon clutches of eggs. This is caused by other birds passing parasites to the Grackle, who lays speckled eggs of unrecognizable color and pattern. The Grackle then abandons the eggs, which suffer and die. While not every egg per clutch will be lost, the ones that do not survive are ill afforded by the Grackle species as a whole – even if it is one of the most prolific black birds in North America.

In a normal situation, both male and female Grackles bring nesting materials to the nest cavity usually in coniferous trees, willow swamps, under the eaves of barns, on rafters and in woodpecker holes. But the nest is built by the female only in about 5 days. The nest is large and made of twigs, grasses and leaves. The inside is lined with mud, fine grasses and horsehair. The female lays 1 to 7 eggs. The color of the egg ranges from nearly white, light blue, pearl gray to dark brown. The female incubates the eggs for about 12 to 14 days. At this time, the male may desert the nest and pair with a second female. The male that stays guards the nest while the female feeds the young. The young leave the nest 12 to 15 days after hatching though they remain near the nest for the next 1 to 2 days.

Grackles are one of the most abundant breeding birds in North America. They can be found throughout the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and extending to Canada in the summer breeding season. A Grackle is a large (11 to 13 inches) black bird with purple or bronze iridescence. It has a long, stout black beak and pale yellow eyes. Its tail is long and in flight forms a deeply keeled V-shape. The female Grackle is slightly smaller, less glossy with shorter tail than the male. Although Grackles may appear to be all black, the color varies regionally.

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