Well, it is a bit bittersweet, but we are officially back in the broke state of Illinois. Part of us misses the warm(ish) sun, soothing waves and inviting beaches we enjoy while on our southern stay. On the other hand, there is something comforting about being home even when the outside temps are struggling to get into double digits (hell, even above zero for that matter). What can I say, I like my “stuff”, ability to stretch out and not hit the side of the RV and, best of all, I finally get to play with my new Christmas gifts. Also helpful to have my larger screens for managing my blog duties. Need to get caught up on the 2023 Average Year (link here), but other than the updated travel video, the 2022 results/recaps are all finalized (link here).
The month of January was one busy birding month. With all the southern Texas locations and the travel to and from, the unofficial 2023 count already stands at 192. That means only 108 more to go in the next 11 months to hit the previously missed 300 threshold (technically 106 as I already picked off two easy ones at my feeders). Of course we all know it gets significantly harder as each one is ticked off. There is one particular bird I am glad is already checked for this year – one that my ears are very relieved are likely to be absent for some months until we head back into the Southwest.
Those that live in that region ALREADY know what our feature bird of the day is. That purplish shimmer, dagger of a bill and equally piercing yellow eyes conjure up images of psychological noise torture used throughout warfare history. There is a theory that the Israelites really used Great Tailed Grackles to bring down the walls of Jericho and not trumpets – UPDATE: our gaggle of curmudgeon lawyers that make life miserable for those of us here at Intrigued demand that I caveat my previous statement with “there are no facts to date supporting said theory”. Truth is they were trained to steer D11’s at the time and the reason many construction companies choose yellow as their base color – in tribute to the eyes of these early skilled soldiers/laborers.
While I sort things out with the lawyers, hit the jump to read more about these squawkers.
For those not familiar with this particular species of bird, they are quite common in the southwest. From our many trips in Texas, I can assure you they can be found on any stop in that state – rest stops, parking lots, campgrounds, parks, refuges, beaches, rivers etc. The damn things are everywhere, which wouldn’t be a huge problem if they’d shut up for more than 5 seconds at a time.
You might think you are at a tennis match with all that racket (thankfully we do not get paid for our puns ha). I have trouble articulating what their calls/sounds mimic – maybe something along the lines of a demonic carnival slide flute. I think Cornell might have the best description “calls so loud they were best heard at a distance”, “rusty gate hinge” and what might be the most accurate “machinery badly in need of lubrication”.
They always look pissed off by the way, so they are obviously annoying us humans on purpose – maybe some long running grudge for an inadvertent grade school joke liking them to a carnival flute or Cyrano with jaundice. Regardless of the superficial reason, they are still one angry dispositioned bird. This specimen was busy flexing its muscles at me while threatening bodily harm if I didn’t give him one of my Chicken McNuggets.
On the other hand, the female Great-Tailed Grackle is much more subdued both in attitude and coloring. They still sport the distinguishable yellow eye, but they prefer dressing in less threatening browns. Depending on the lighting, they can take on a variety of hues. The shot below is one of my favorites as the setting sun brought out beautiful golden tones that complimented the railing she was sitting on.
Note, all of these shots were taken last year at the new fishing pier towards the back of Goose Island State Park near Rockport, TX. Per the lighting comment, contrast the shot above with this next one. A little earlier in the day, light coming from the left rather than behind. Ever seen “The Strike” (also known as Two-Face” episode of the Seinfeld show? (link here)
As you can see, the females are also significantly smaller than their male counterparts. From my observations, a lot less chatty as well. Granted, not say that much with this family of birds. Will leave you with a couple of other interesting facts about this species. It didn’t occur to me why at first, but the females tend to outnumber the males. Cornell’s theory is their smaller stature means less food requirements and thus more likely to survive than their larger brothers. Their other cool fact caused a shudder up my spine. These birds are serious flockers during the winter months gathering up to a half a million at a time in the Texas Rio Grande Valley sugarcane fields. Surprised there are any walls still standing down there hehehe.
Hope you enjoyed and stay safe everyone!