Thursday, March 26, 2015

Great-tailed Grackles Return to CSU Stanislaus

The pond outside my office at CSU Stanislaus was a great deal noisier this week. It didn't take long to find out why. The Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) have returned north from their winter homes. The region was feeling a bit empty after the geese and Sandhill Cranes left for the Arctic over the last few weeks, so it's nice to know that other species are coming here for the summer. They have a piercing whistling call that echoes across the pond.
You can tell they put their all into shouting at each other...
The Great-tailed Grackles are a newcomer in our region. Unlike many bird species, they have been vigorously expanding their range over the last few decades. In this case, they are not exactly an invasive species in the manner of Starlings or Eurasian Collared Doves. They are native to northern Mexico and the border states, and they do well in association with humans, especially their parking lots and garbage cans. This report (click here) outlines the nature and timing of their expansion.
The males are iridescent black and are much larger than the females, who are more of a buff color (above). And they have amazingly big tails that look out of proportion to their bodies. They breed in a number of environments, but seem to favor reeds and cattails like those that are found on the margin of the pond at the CSU. As such, they may compete with Red-wing Blackbirds. In any case, with their distinctive call, they have the effect of livening up the place.

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