Bent Life History of the Common Grackle
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Common Grackle - the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
QUISCALUS QUISCULA STONEI Chapman
Frank M. Chapman (1935a) proposed the above scientific name for the bird that we have always called the purple grackle (Quiscalus quiscula quiscula), naming it in honor of Wither Stone. He apparently restricts this name to the grackles in which "the head varies from greenish to purplish blue and rarely violet, the back and sides are bronzy purple with more or less concealed iridescent bars, the rump is purplish bronze, sometimes with bluish spots." In the same article ho advances theories to show how the forms of the genus Quiscalus, as we now know them, probably originated and spread.
Far too much has been published on the relationship, nomenclature, and distribution of the races of this genus of grackles to be even summarized here. The reader who wishes to follow the discussion is referred to nine important papers on the subject: Dr. Champion's preliminary study in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1892); his other articles were published in The Auk (1935a, 1935b, 1936, 1939a, 1939b, 1940); Arthur T. Wayne's articles on the status of the species in South Carolina, also in The Auk, (1918); and Dr. Harry C. Oberholser's study of the subspecies published in The Auk (1919b).
As far as can be gathered from a study of these papers, map and tables, the breeding range of the purple grackle (Quiscalus quiscula stonei), extends from northern South Carolina and Georgia through the Atlantic States, east of the Alleghenies, to southern New York and southern Connecticut; I should extend this race eastward to include extreme southeastern Massachusetts; and there seems to be a westward extension as far as south-central Louisiana, between the ranges of the bronzed grackle on the north and the Florida grackle on the south. In Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts I have collected quite a number of our breeding grackles and have observed many others at short range and in good light; although our birds here are somewhat intermediate in their characters, I believe that they are nearer to the purple grackle (Quiscalus quiscula stonei) than to the bronzed grackle (Quiscalus quisqu1a versicolor); I shall therefore treat our local records as applying to the former race. Farther north in Massachusetts, the bronzed grackle seems to be the commoner form, though the purple grackle has been recorded much farther north. Robie W. Tufts writes to me: "On or about Nov. 20, 1931, a specimen was taken at Grand Manan by Allen L. Moses, who mounted the bird. This specimen was taken to P. A. Taverner at Ottawa, who supported Mr. Moses in his identification. Mr. Moses shot the bird thinking it was a bronzed grackle and was about to toss it into his fox pen when he noticed the transverse markings on the back."
Spring: Crow blackbirds, as they are often called, start migrating northward from their not far distant winter range during the latter part of February and reach their breeding grounds in southern New England around the middle of March. St. Patrick's Day, March 17, has always been associated in my mind with the arrival of the grackles about my home; then we may expect to hear the creaking notes of the males and see the glossy black birds posturing in the leafless treetops or exploring the tops of the tallest pines and spruces for possible nesting sites, preparatory for the coming of the females a week or two later. If weather conditions are favorable, they may remain, but a late snow storm or severe cold spell may cause them to retreat.
Courtship: On April 8, 1946, two grackles, apparently both males, were moving about in the branches of a big ash tree close to my study window. One was evidently following the other as he traveled along the branches or hopped from one branch to another. Every few seconds one would stop, crouch down on the branch, lower his head, puff out his body plumage, spread his wings downward, and lower and spread his tall, at the same time giving voice to his unmusical notes. The other male went through the same motions at intervals, alternating with the first one. Eventually they separated and flew away in different directions. Apparently, it was a competitive display for the benefit of some hidden female, of which there were several in the yard .
Mating is evidently earlier at Cape May, N. J., for Wither Stone (1937) writes:
As early as March 13, many of the Grackles are flying in pairs, the male just behind the female and at a slightly lower level. They are noisy, too, about the nest trees and there is a constant chorus of harsh alarm calls; chuck; chuck; chuck; like the sound produced by drawing the side of the tongue away from the teeth, interspersed with an occasional long-drawn, seeek, these calls being uttered by birds on the wing as well as those that are perching. Then at intervals from a perching male comes the explosive rasping "song" chu-sdecek accompanied by the characteristic lifting of the shoulders, spreading of the wings and tail, and swelling up of the entire plumage.
As early as March 5 I have seen evidence of mating and sometimes two males have been in pursuit of a single female, resting near her in the tree tops, where they adopted a curious posture with neck stretched up and bill held vertically.
Nesting: At the extreme northeastern end of their breeding range, near my home, we have found purple grackles nesting in a variety of situations. Many years ago, in eastern Rhode Island, a colony of a dozen or more pairs nested for several years in a hillside grove of red cedars (Juniperus virginiana). The nests were placed in the cedars, 10 or 12 feet from the ground, and were made of dried grasses and weed stems, lined with fine dry grass. In the extensive cattail marshes surrounding Squibnocket Pond on Martha's Vineyard Island, we found two well-hidden grackles' nests in the tall, dense, green flags, firmly attached to these cattails, and placed from 2 to 3 feet above the water. In that same vicinity there was a colony of eight or ten nests of these birds, 7 or 8 feet up, in a swampy thicket of large bushes.
On May 29, 1904, at Chatham, Mass., while passing through an apple orchard in full bloom, we noticed a pair of grackles making quite a fuss; their nest was soon located in an upright crotch near the top of one of the apple trees, about 12 feet from the ground; the nest, made of seaweed and coarse grasses and lined with fine grass and horsehair, contained five fresh eggs.
By contrast, our local purple grackles sometimes select much more inaccessible nesting sites. Within sight of my former residence is a row of tall white pines (Pinus strobu.s), along the banks of the Taunton River; every year several pairs of grackles have nested near the tops of the these trees, where the nests must have been between 50 and 60 feet from the ground; the nests were never disturbed by egg collecting boys. We found another safe nesting site in a cedar swamp on Cape Cod. The swamp had been flooded as a reservoir and the white cedars (Chamaecyparis thyoides) were standing in water from 4 to 5 feet deep; it was a very large colony and there were evidently many nests in the cedars, but we did not care to make any accurate count of the nests, nor could we even estimate the number of the birds that were flying about over the swamp .
Bendire (1895) gives the following description of the nests: "The nests are rather loosely constructed and bulky. The materials used vary greatly according to locality; the outer walls are usually composed of coarse grass, weed stalks, eelgrass or seaweed, sometimes with a foundation of mud, and again without it. The inner cup of the nest is composed of similar but finer materials, and is generally lined with dry grass, among which occasionally a few feathers, bits of paper, strings, and rags may be scattered; in fact anything suitable and readily obtained is liable to be utilized. Exteriorly the nests vary from 5 to 8 inches in height, and from 7 to 9 inches in diameter, according to location. They are ordinarily about 3 inches deep by 4 inches wide inside." After describing nesting sites, similar to those mentioned above, he adds:
Sometimes natural cavities in trees or hollow stubs, as well as the excavations of the larger Woodpeckers, are also used, and along the seashore, where the Fishbawk is common, they often place their nests in the interstices of these bulky structures, notably so on Plum Island, New York. Speaking of this locality, the late Dr. Charles S. Allen  says: "In every Pishhawk's nest, except those on the ground, I always found from two to eight or ten nests of the Purple Grackle. They were situated in crevices among the sticks under the edges of the nest, or even beneath the nest itself, so as to secure protection from rain and bad weather. They were very bold in collecting fragments from the table of their powerful neighbors.
Mr. J. H. Pleasant, Jr., of Baltimore, Maryland, writes as follows: "On May 19, 1888, I discovered a colony of Purple Grackles nesting under the eaves and rafters of a hay barn. In some instances the entrance to the nest was so small that it was extremely difficult to obtain the eggs. The crevices in which the nests were built were very much of the same character as those frequently chosen by the English Sparrow, and were situated at an average height of 25 feet from the ground; over a dozen nests were observed."
T. E. McMullen has sent me the data for 20 New Jersey nests: 9 of these were in grapevines or ivy vines climbing over various deciduous trees; 9 others were in red cedars; one was 20 feet up in a gum tree, the highest one was 45 feet from the ground in a large pine, and the lowest nests were 6 or 5 feet up in vines .
Eggs: The purple grackle lays ordinarily four or five eggs to a set, very rarely seven; sets of six are not especially rare; the only set of seven that I have found contained two eggs that were quite different from the other five. The eggs are generally ovate in shape and are slightly glossy. Bendire (1895) describes them as follows:
The ground color of the Purple Grackle's eggs varies from a pale greenish white to a light rusty brown; they are generally blotched or streaked with irregular lines and dashes of various shades of dark brown, and in an occasional set different tints of lavender markings are also noticeable. Only in rare instances are these markings so profuse and evenly distributed over the entire egg as to hide the ground color. They vary greatly in style and character in different sets.
The average measurement of 85 eggs is 28.53 by 20.89 millimetres, or about 1.12 by 0.82 inches. The largest egg in the series measures 32.76 by 23.11 millimetres, or 1.29 by 0.91 inches; the smallest 25.65 by 20.57 millimetres, or 1.01 by 0.81 inches.
Young: Of the young, Bendire (1895) says: "Incubation, in which both parents assist, lasts about two weeks, and they are equally solicitous in the defense of their eggs or young; the latter are able to leave the nest in about eighteen days, and sometimes a second brood is raised. They are fed almost entirely on insects while in the nest." Eighteen days seems a long time for the young to remain in the nest; 12 or 14 days would seem to be the usual time. It seems strange that so little has been published on the care and development of the young of such a common bird as the purple grackle.
Plumages: The plumage changes of the purple grackle are very simple and hardly noticeable after the young bird's first summer. Dwight (1900) calls the color of the natal down pale sepia-brown. The whole juvenal plumage is "dull clove-brown, the body feathers often very faintly edged with paler brown. Tail darker with purplish tints." A complete postjuvenal molt takes place early in August, at which the iridescent black plumage of the male is acquired, and old and young birds become indistinguishable. The nuptial plumage is ''acquired by wear which produces no noticeable effect as is regularly the case with iridescent plumages." Adults have one complete annual molt, the postnuptial, beginning early in August.
Of the plumages of the female, he says: "In juvenal dress the female is perhaps paler below than is the male and usually indistinctly streaked. There is a complete postjuvenal moult and later plumages differ from the male only in being much duller and browner with few metallic reflections. They also show more wear."
Witmer Stone (1937) makes the following interesting observation: "The progress of the molt in Grackles can easily be noted by the appearance of the wings and tail as the birds fly overhead, although the new and old body plumage of the adults are the same. They show gaps in the flight feathers as early as July 18 and some are still molting as late as September 8, 11 and 16 in different years. When the tail molt begins the long central feathers drop out first so that the tail appears split or forked, this gap becomes wider as successive pairs of feathers are lost, but by the time the outer pair is dropped the new central feathers have grown out and the outline of the tail is pointed or wedge-shaped."
Harold B. Wood has sent me the following notes on the colors of the iris in the purple grackle: "The young have brown iides, which by the absorption of the pigment, change to gray and lemon, ivory or white. The young of the year have uniformly dark brown irides until fall. Early spring birds have gray, lemon, ivory, or white iides. No bird which I trapped and banded with brown or gray eyes ever returned to tbc traps." As the iris in the adult is pale lemon color, or almost white, it appears that the brown iris is confined to the youngest birds and that the gray iris marks a transition stage of adolescence.
Food: Beal's (1900) report on the contents of 2,346 stomachs of crow blackbirds includes the food of both the purple and the bronzed grackles, and will be considered under the latter subspecies. It seems proper to discuss here only such reports as refer especially to the purple grackle.
In his report on the birds of Pennsylvania, B. H. Warren (1890) gives the following list of the contents of several series of stomachs, collected in various months:
March: Twenty-nine examined. They showed chiefly insects and seed; in five corn was present, and in four wheat and oats were found. All of these grains, however, were in connection with an excess of insect food.
April: Thirty-three examined. They revealed chiefly insects, with but a small amount of vegetable matter .
May: Eighty-two examined. Almost entirely insects, cut-worms being especially frequent.
June: Forty-three examined. Showed generally insects, cut-worms in abundance; fruits and berries present, but to very small extent.
July: Twenty-four examined. Showed mainly insects; berries present in limited amount.
August: Twenty-three examined. Showed chiefly insects, berries, and corn.
September: Eighteen examined. Showed insects, berries, corn and seeds.
October: During this month (1882), the writer made repeated visits to roostingresorts, where these birds were collected in great numbers, and shot 378, which were examined. Of this number the following is the result of examinations, in detail, of 111 stomachs:
Thirty, corn and coleoptera (beetles); twenty-seven, corn only; fifteen, art ho ptera (grasshoppers); eleven, corn and seeds; eleven, corn and orthoptera; seven, coleoptera; three, coleoptera and orthoptera; three, wheat and coteoptera; two, wheat and corn; one, dip tera (flies).
The remaining 267 birds were taken from the 10th to the 31st of the month, and their food was found to consist almost entirely of corn.
These examinations show that late in the fall, when insect food is scarce, corn is especially preyed upon by these birds, but during the previous periods of their residence with us, insects form a large portion of their diet.
Bendire (1895) makes the general statement that: Their food consists largely of animal matter, such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, beetles, cutworms, larvae of different insects, remains of small mammals, frogs, newts, crawfish, small mollusks and fish. While it must be admitted that Indian corn, oats, and wheat are also eaten to some extent, much of the vegetable matter found in their stomachs consists of the seeds of noxious weeds, such as the ragweed (Ambrosia), smartweed (Polygonum), and others. Fruit is used but sparingly, and consists usually of mulberries, blackberries, and occasionally of cherries. One of the gravest charges against them is the destruction of the young and eggs of smaller birds, especially those of the Robin.* * *
They spend much of their time on the ground, being essentially ground feeders they walk along close to the heels of the farmer while plowing, picking up beetles, grubs, etc., as they are turned up by the plow, or search the meadows and pastures for worms, grasshoppers, and other insects suitable for food.
The purple grackle eats the Japanese beetle, that imported pest that does so much damage to lawns, fruit trees, and flower gardens. I constantly see grackles and starlings feeding on my lawns, and like to think that they are probing for the grubs of this beetle: but I have never seen them feeding on the adult beetles in my rose garden. However, Japanese beetles were found in all the stomachs of purple grackles, meadowlarks, starlings, cardinals, English sparrows, wood thrushes, catbirds and robins, that were taken in the heavily infested areas in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Smith and Hadley (1926) say: "The purple grackle accounts for more of the beetles than any other bird. * * * Several were completely gorged with them. * * * The percentage of beetles eaten by the more important birds is as follows: Purple grackle, 66.3; meadowlark, 50.7; starling, 42.3; cardinal, 38.6; catbird, 14.8."
About our city parks these grackles are scavengers, picking anything edible from the rubbish cans, or eating any crumbs or bits of food dropped from the lunch baskets of visitors. Frank R. Smith sends me a story illustrating the sagacity of the bird: "This morning, as I passed through the park back of the National Museum, I noticed a grackle that had found a dry, hard crust, left from a lunch. The bird made several attempts to eat the crust, but its hardness resisted his efforts. Picking it up, he flew across the walk and alighted near a hydrant, beneath which a bird-bath was sunk to the level of the ground. Soaking in the water sat a pigeon; and the grackle, while evidently wanting to enter, feared to trust his prize so near the larger bird. After several false starts, he waded boldly into the water and turned his back on the pigeon, so that his own body was between the bread and the bird he feared. He dropped the bread into the water, waited a few seconds, picked it up and walked out to the grass, where he ate the softened bread. During this time the pigeon sat watching him curiously."
Hervey Brackbill writes to me: "Acorns are a prominent fall food.
Flocks as large as a couple of hundred birds come into the oak-wooded suburbs of Baltimore in late September and October, and feed both in the trees and on the ground beneath. The grackles, incidentally, do not open the acorns as blue jays do, by holding them down with their feet and hammering them with their bills; they grip them back in the angle of their mandibles and crack them by direct pressure."
Clarence Cottam (1943) observed an unusual feeding habit of grackles and crows at the outlet of a reservoir where: About 12,000 cubic feet of water per second was passing through the electric turbines, "boiling up" to form the headwater of the Cooper River. Apparently the turbines were cutting up or otherwise killing large numbers of gizzard shad and other small fishes. These, brought to the surface by the churning water, attracted Ring-billed, Herring, Laughing, and Bonaparte's Gulls, as well as crows, Purple Grackles, and even a solitary Red-wing. * * * The grackles and crows fed over the turbulent water, picking up morsels of food with the skill and dexterity of the typical water birds. The feet and even the breast feathers of many of the crows and grackles were seen to touch the surface of the water momentarily as the birds hovered over this (for them) uncharacteristic feeding place. * * * Purple Grackles * * * use a wide variety of foods, and we have occasionally observed them feeding in shallow water on stranded insects and even small fishes. To see several dozens of these birds feeding in deep and turbulent water after the manner of gulls and terns, however, was indeed a surprise.
Economic status: The grackle's reputation among farmers is almost as black as its plumage, for its faults, and it has plenty, are more conspicuous than its good deeds. Nor is it any more popular among its bird neighbors, as can be seen by the hostility they show toward it, for many a robin's or other small bird's nest has been robbed of its eggs or callow young to satisfy the appetites of young gracldes. Analysis of stomach contents does not show any large percentage of such food, but it must be remembered that the yolks of eggs and the soft parts of small young are quickly digested and thus not easily detected; and the egg shells are not always swallowed.
The grackles are condemned by farmers on account of the considerable damage done by them to the grain crops during the planting season and until after harvesting has been completed. They are accused of pulling up the sprouting corn and wheat in the spring, but much of this is done to obtain the cutworms that are attacking the seedlings. Warren (1890) says on this point: "Some four years ago I was visiting a friend who had thirty odd acres of corn (maize) planted. Quite a number of 'blackies,' as he styled them, were plying themselves with great activity about the growing cereal. We shot thirty-one of these birds feeding in the cornfield. Of this number nineteen showed only cut worms in their stomachs. The number of cut worms in each, of course, varied, but as many as twenty-two were taken from one stomach. In seven some corn was found, in connection with a very large excess of insects, to wit: Beetles, earthworms, and cut worms. The remaining five showed chiefly beetles."
Perhaps the chief damage to the corn crop is done when the grain is in the milky stage in the summer; the gracldes are flocking at that season and, where they are abundant, they swoop down in great black clouds into the standing corn; they strip the husks off the ears and eat the tender kernels, taking perhaps only a few from each ear, but rendering many unfit for the market. Sometimes as much as a quarter of the crop is thus damaged. The farmer is nearly helpless to protect a large field, for shooting only drives the birds from one portion of the field to another. All that can be said in favor of the grackle here is that it is a persistent enemy of the destructive corn borer.
Later in the season, after the corn is harvested and shocked, the grackles do some damage to the ripened ears by extracting the hard kernels; and Nuttall (1832) says that "in the Southern States, in winter, they hover round the corn-cribs in swarms, and boldly peck the hard grain from the cob through the air openings of the magazine."
Referring to the attacks on sprouting winter wheat, Judd (1902) writes: "During November 1900, a flock of from 2,000 to 3,000 pulled wheat on the Bryan farm, and only continual use of the shotgun saved the crop. At each report they would fly to the oak woods bordering lot 5, where they fed on acorns. Nine birds collected had eaten acorns and wheat in about equal proportions. The flock must have taken daily at least half an ounce of food apiece, and therefore, if the specimens examined were representative, must in a week have made away with 217 pounds of sprouting wheat, a loss that would entail at harvest time a shortage of at least ten times as much."
Although grain forms nearly half (47 percent) of the food for the year it is not all a loss to the farmer, as much of it is waste grain dropped during harvesting or left on the ground after that. Some slight damage is done to green peas, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, and other small fruits, but less than is done by some other birds.
All this damage may seem considerable, but it is largely offset by the good done in the destruction of those insects, harmful to the interests of the farmer, which make up over 50 percent of the food for the year. Consequently, where grackles are overabundant, they should be controlled or the crops be protected, otherwise they are fully as useful as harmful.
Behavior: While feeding on my lawn the grackle walks with a slow, dignified gait, head held high and tail somewhat elevated, or runs nimbly over the ground, nervously flirting its long tail up and down and occasionally making long, high hops in pursuit of some insect. Occasionally it jumps or flies up a foot or two to catch a flying insect in the air. It forages also in the shrubbery or trees, evidently after insects, but for the most part it finds its food on the ground, picking something off the grass or probing in the earth for grubs or worms. When robins are feeding on the lawn at the same time, the grackles watch them and follow them about; as soon as a robin is seen pulling up a fat worm, the grackle rushes in and seizes the worm, driving away the gentler bird; the robin seems to be unable to defend itself and must yield its prize to the more aggressive robber. I have often seen a grackle, while foraging on my lawn on a warm sunny day in spring, stop and squat close down on the ground, remaining there for several minutes with its body pressed close to the warm earth, as if it enjoyed the warmth or perhaps just taking a sunbath. It may have been "anting,~' as other birds do in order to anoint their plumage with formic acid .
In this connection, the following observation by Mary Emma Groff and Hervey Brackbill (1946) is of interest:
The recent discussions of anting and supposedly substitute activities by birds makes it seem worth while to describe the behavior of Purple Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula stonci) in anointing themselves with a juice, apparently an acid, from the hulls of English walnuts (Ju glans regia). * * * The walnuts grow in clusters of as many as five or six, at the ends of branches. The grackles would alight upon these clusters: just one bird to each: and begin pecking a hole in the sticky hull of one of the nuts, usually throwing away the pieces of hull they gouged out, occasionally seeming to swallow a piece. When a good-sized hole had been made, the birds would dip their hills into it, undoubtedly wetting them against the pulpy interior, and then thrust their hills over and into their plumage. A Areat part of the body was thus anointed: the breast, the under and upper surfaces of the wings, the back, and very often apparently the rump at the base of the tail. * * * Particularly birds that were watched worked as long as 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch. Many males sang at intervals, with display, and there was also much noise because of commotion among the birds, two or three of which would often contest for the same cluster of nuts. * * * The indication that it was an acid the birds were using was obtained when one of the English walnut hulls was cut open and litmus paper quickly placed against it; the paper instantly gave a strong acid reaction."
In the air the purple grackle flies in a direct line, not undulating like redwings, and generally at a considerable height, with strong steady wing beats; its flight is well sustained but not especially rapid. Witmer Stone (1937) says that when they descend from a height to alight in the trees "they sail down on set wings which form a triangular, kite-like outline, with the long tails of the males deeply depressed into the characteristic boat or keel." As fly-catchers the grackles arc not experts. Stone saw one "pursuing a flying beetle on the street, an unusual performance; the bird was exceedingly clumsy in turning on the wing and after following its erratic prey for several minutes without result it gave up the chase. On August 31, several grackles were observed darting up into the air from the tree tops in pursuit of flying ants in which activity they also proved very clumsy."
In its relations with other species the grackle not only indulges in the well-known habit of stealing eggs or young birds from the nests of its neighbors, but sometimes attacks and kills other birds in open places. In the National Zoological Park, in Washington, Malcolm Davis (1944) saw a purple grackle kill an English sparrow, which it had been stalking in almost catlike manner. * * * The sparrow was not long out of the nest, but was able to fly and take care of itself. A few days later I walked along the same area, and saw the kill. The grackle approached the sparrow and as the smaller bird flew away, the attacker seized its prey in its beak and gave it several hard shakes, with the body of the sparrow hitting the hard concrete pavement. At this moment passersby frightened the grackle away, but later the bird returned to eat the viscera of the sparrow."
Frank B. Foster (1927) reports: "At my Game Farm on the Pickering Creek, in Chester County, Pa., we lost in the Pheasant field, almost three hundred little Pheasants (Phasianu.s), a few days old, which were destroyed by Purple Grackles (Quiscalus q. quiscala [sic]). The male Grackles were the ones that did the damage. They came into the enclosure and simply took the heads off the little birds, leaving the bodies."
The purple grackle is highly gregarious at all seasons; even during the nesting season the birds often breed in sizable communities; and those that are not incubating resort to communal roosts at night. In the larger roosts they are often associated with starlings, redwings, or cowbirds.
Several roosts in eastern Pennsylvania have been studied, of which the Overbrook roost, described by C. J. Peck (1905), is typical: "The Overbrook Grackle Roost is situated upon the property of Mr. David L. Hess at the corner of Sixty-third street and Lansdowne avenue, Philadelphia. The estate comprises about ten acres, is rolling and wooded and has an artificial lake of about an acre in extent. The trees are deciduous with a goodly sprinkling of conifers and are of fair size. The roost has been in constant use for more than twenty years: how much more I have been unable to ascertain." This roost was used by varying numbers of birds during every month in the year, the smallest numbers being found in December and January. He gives a short account month by month showing the fluctuations in the population of the roost. In January, fewer birds use the roost than at any other time of the year. "On a few very severe nights the roost may be deserted, but such nights are rare and usually four or five hundred birds remain throughout the month." Conditions are about the same until the last week in February, when the migration begins. "Probably five thousand birds use the roost during the last few days in February." In March the "number of birds rapidly increases throughout the month until from twenty to twenty-five thousand are using the roost nightly." In April and May, the nesting months, the numbers fall off, "but the number never seems to fall below two or three thousand: birds which have not mated as yet or else males which have nests near by, probably both." June is very much like May, except that a very few females and the first of the early young begin to come in. But all this is changed soon after August first.
The birds have for the most part completed their domestic cares and family groups are rapidly consolidated into large flocks which come to the roost from considerable distances. The numbers are very greatly increased and the birds in flying to and from the roost follow much more closely a regular well-defined route .
During September and October the greatest numbers are reached, and the birds come in at night in great flights, one flock following another so closely as to give the impression of a single long-drawn-out flock. The flight begins about 5:30 p.m. and lasts for about twenty or twenty-five minutes, but scattered birds and small flocks continue to come in until dark. I believe that from fifty to seventy-five thousand birds visit the roost every night during these two months. * * * Robins use the roost to the number of one thousand or more, their numbers being hard to judge with any degree of accuracy on account of the way they mix with the Grackles .
By 6:30, on September 17, the noise from the birds had begun to subside; and by 6:45 darkness and silence had come .
When grackles and starlings select a roost in a thickly settled community, or in the trees of a city street, as they sometimes do, they create a decided nuisance. Lewis W. Ripley (1914) tells how such a roost was established in one of the finest residential streets in Hartford, Conn., and what was done about it: "The birds, numbering probably several thousand, began to come in just before dark, an*J by seven o'clock all had arrived, and from this time until about six in the morning constituted a first-class nuisance, whistling and chattering until about 8 p.m., and beginning about 4 a.m., making a tremendous racket so that it was difficult to sleep. Not less annoying was the filthy condition of the walks and lawns, and the damage to the clothing of those passing along the street was not inconsiderable."
Several plans were discussed for getting rid of them and some were tried without much success; ordinary roman candles had no permanent effect, even when fired by men in the trees; but finally it was learned that the persistent use of high-powered, 10-ball candles, weighing 56 pounds to the gross, would produce the desired result. "As a net final result, about eight dozen candles were used at a total expense of about $10 and, at the end of a week, only a couple of dozen birds are to be found where there were thousands."
Voice: The unattractive voice of the purple grackle is described in the following notes sent to me by Aretas A. Saunders: "While the sounds produced by grackles are far from musical, nevertheless some of them are largely confined to a definite season, including the period of nesting, and therefore may be considered to be songs. The commonest of these is a grating, metallic sound that might be written kuwaaxza. The main note is pitched about F' and the short note at the beginning is a tone to a tone and a half lower. The matter of pitch, however, is more difficult to determine definitely in sounds that are not of musical quality. This is particularly true in determining the octave. The pitch of this note is near F, but whether F ', F'', or F ' / ' I do not feel entirely sure. This particular sound is to be heard from the first arrival of the birds in March to the end of the breeding season in late June. It is sometimes also heard in late September and October from individuals in the flocks that congregate at that season.
"In the time of courtship in late April or early May, grackles produce another songlike sound that is accompanied by spreading of wings and tail. This is a series of four or five notes, each higher in pitch than the former one. The lower notes are rather harsh, while the higher ones are squeaky. These sounds are something like koguoaleek or koochokaweekee. The pitch begins on C' 'or D ' 'and rises to B flat ' ' or C ' ' at the end. The common call-note of the grackle is a loud chak, very similar to that of the redwings, but louder and somewhat lower in pitch."
To the nonmusical ear the squeaky notes of the grackles sound like the creaking of a rusty hinge and are decidedly unpleasant, but when heard in chorus from a migrating flock the effect is rather pleasing. During the courtship display the contortions of body, wings, and tail seem to indicate that the notes are produced with considerable effort.
Field marks: The grackles are the largest of our northern blackbirds and have the longest tails; these are wedge-shaped and rounded or graduated at the end; and the male often carries his tail keeled, the middle feathers lower than the others. Grackles differ from redwings in having a straighter, more level, less undulating flight. They can be distinguished from rusty blackbirds by the longer tails. The sharply defined bronze back of the bronzed grackle cannot be distinguished from the more variegated back of the purple grackle, except at short range and in favorable light. There are, of course, many intermediates to be seen near the borders of the ranges; these are very difficult to identify as to race.
Fall: The migrations of purple grackles are not long ones. They leave the northern portions of their breeding range in November, but even here a few remain occasionally in mild winters, though they are rare north of Washington, D. C., in winter .
As soon as the breeding season is over and the young birds are well grown, they begin to gather in the summer roosts, the family parties joining to form immense flocks. During October and November, these great flocks wander about over the country, often joined by starlings, cowbirds, and other blackbirds, seeking suitable feeding places in the grain fields, grasslands, and swamps. Stone (1937) describes one of these large feeding flocks "which contained many thousand birds. They covered the ground in great black sheets, the rear ranks constantly arising and flying over to take their place in the van which gave the impression of rolling over the ground. When they took wing in force the long procession streamed past shutting off from view all that lay beyond and when they alighted in the trees the bare branches appeared to be clothed with a dense black foliage."
Winter: The main winter range of the purple grackle seems to extend from the Carolinas southward to the Gulf coast, though Skinner (1928) says that it occurs mainly as a migrant in the sandhill region of North Carolina, and Wayne (1910) considers it rare in coastal South Carolina. Probably most of these grackles spend the winter farther south in the Gulf States.
Wilson (1832) gives the following graphic account of a large wintering flock:
A few miles from the banks of the Roanoke, on the 20th of January, I met with one of these prodigious armies of Grackles. They rose from the surrounding fieIds with a noise like thunder, and, descending on the length of road before me, covered it and the fences completely with black; and when they again rose, and, after a few evolutions, descended on the skirts of the bight timbered woods, at that those destitute of leaves, they produced a most singular and striking effect; the whole trees for a considerable extent, from the top to the lowest branches, seeming as if hung in mourning; their notes and screaming the meanwhile resembling the distant sound of a great cataract, but in more musical cadence, swelling and dying away on the ear, according to the fluctuation of the breeze.
Range: Central Louisiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut to Florida and Georgia.
Breeding Range: The purple grackle breeds from central and southeastern Louisiana (Lake Arthur, East Baton Rouge), central and northeastern Mississippi (Shubata, Lucedale), southern and northeastern Tennessee (Selmer, Shady Valley), eastern West Virginia (Franklin, Leetown), central and northeastern Pennsylvania (State College, Scranton), central-southern and southeastern New York (Binghamton, Hempstead), and southwestern Connecticut (Bethel, Portland); south to Central Alabama (Greensboro, Auburn), northern Georgia (Kirkwood, Athens), western South Carolina (Greenwood), east-central North Carolina (Raleigh), and southeastern Virginia (Petersburg) .
Winter Range: Winters within breeding range rarely north to southeastern Pennsylvania (Doylestown, Hohnesburg) and Rhode Island (Newport); south to the Gulf coast, northern Florida (Cedar Keys, Gainesville), and southeastern Georgia (Riceboro) .
Casual records: Casual in Texas (Sour Lake), Kentucky (Barboursville), western Pennsylvania (Wilkinsburg), New Hampshire (Tilton), and New Brunswick (Kent Island).
Migration: The data deal with the species as a whole.
Early dates of spring arrival are: South Carolina: Spartanburg, January 27. North Carolina: Raleigh, January 29; Charlotte, February 4. Virginia: Lexington, February 15. West Virginia: Bluefield, February 14. District of Columbia: January 21 (average of 38 years, February 23). Maryland: Baltimore County, January 17; Laurel, January 28 (median of 7 years, February 16). Pennsylvania: Doylestown, February 1; Beaver, February 17 (average of 19 years, March 8). New Jersey: Princeton, February 6. New York: Shelter Island, February 12 (average of 16 years, March 7); Geneva, February 24 (average of 12 years, March 13). Connecticut: Fairfield, February 16. Rhode Island: Providence, February 22 (average of 23 years, March 9). Massachusetts: Harvard, February 23 (average of 7 years, March 14). Vermont: Bennington, February 28 (median of 29 years, March 25). New Hampshire: Exeter, ~Iarch 6. Maine: Orono, March 1. Quebec: Montreal, March 12 (average of 16 years, April 9); Kamouraska, March 24. New Brunswick: Memramcook, March 5; Scotch Lake, March 19 (mcdian of 35 years, April 7). Nova Scotia: Shulee, March 12; Prince Edward Island: North River and Mount Herbert, April 4. Mississippi: Saucier, February 13. Tennessee: Elizabethton, January 28; Athens, February 6 (median of 8 years, March 1). Kentucky: Bowling Green, February 4. Missouri: Kansas City, February 1. Illinois: Murphysboro, February 2; Chicago region, February 22 (average, March 10). Indiana: Worthington and Richmond, February 5. Ohio: Toledo, February 1. Michigan: Three Rivers and Ann Arbor, February 20; Germfask, March 17. Ontario: Toronto, February 14 (average of 17 years, March 21); Ottawa, March 8 (average of 38 years, March 28). Iowa: McGregor, February 20. Wisconsin: Madison, February 26 (average of 21 years, March 21). Minnesota: Minneapolis, February 28 (average of 9 years, March 16); Fergus Falls, March 14. Texas: Dallas, February 9. Kansas: Wilsey, January 29. Nebraska: Omaha, February 10; Red Cloud, February 12 (median of 24 years, February 28). South Dakota: Aberdeen, March 4; Sioux Falls, March 19 (average of 8 years, March 25). North Dakota: Cass County, March 21 (average, April 1). Manitoba: Treesbank, March 24 (median of 55 years, April 14). Saskatchewan: McLean, March 29. Colorado: Fort Morgan, February 27. Wyoming: Wheatland, April 1; Laramie, April 13 (average of 8 years, April 23). Montana: Billings, March 21. Alberta: Alliance, April 1.
Late dates of spring departure are: South Carolina: Charleston, April 3. North Carolina: Raleigh, May 8 (average of 7 years, April 15). District of Columbia, April 17. Maryland: Baltimore County, April 20; Laurel, April 14 (median of 6 years, March 31). New York: New York City region, May 17. Connecticut: New Haven, April 24. Ohio: Buckeye Lake, median, April 10. Texas: San Angelo and Cove, May 1.
Early dates of fall arrival are: Texas: Pecos, September 9. Ohio-Buckeye Lake, median, August 9. Connecticut: New Haven, October 6. New York: New York City region, October 5. North Carolina: Weaverville, October 25; Raleigh, October 26 (average of 12 years, November 1). South Carolina: Chester County, November 1 .
Late dates of fall departure are: Alberta: Belvedere, November 12. Montana: Kirby, October 20. Idaho: Sandpoint, November 19. Wyoming: Douglas, December 18; Careyhurst, November 2. Colorado: Fort Morgan, November 20. Saskatchewan: Indian Head, November 7. Manitoba: Brandon, November 27; Treesbank, November 9 (median of 52 years, October 25). North Dakota: Graf ton. November 14; Cass County, November 3 (average, October 20). South Dakota: Vermillion, December 26; Sioux Falls, November 28 (average of 5 years, November 9). Nebraska: Blue Springs, November 19. Kansas: Clearwater, December 10. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, November 17. Texas: Dallas, November 30. Minnesota: Minneapolis, December 11 (average of 8 years for southern Minnesota, November 8); Isanti County, November 4 (average of 10 years for northern Minnesota, November 1). Wisconsin: Oshkosh, December 13. Iowa: Marble Rock, December 11; Hudson, December 1. Ontario: North Bay, November 20; Ottawa, November 12 (average of 26 years, October 11). Michigan: Detroit, December 6; McMillan, December 1. Ohio: Leetonia, December 7; Toledo, December 2. Indiana: Elkhart, December 4. Illinois: Urbana, December 13; Chicago region, November 18 (average, October 30). Missouri: Bolivar, November 26. Kentucky: Danville, December 2. Tennessee: Athens, November 12 (average of 6 years, October 29).
Prince Edward Island: Tignish, November 6. Nova Scotia: Wolfville, December 30; Halifax, November 9. New Brunswick: Memramcook, December 20; Scotch Lake, November 12 (median of 15 years, October 24). Quebec: Montreal, October 23 (average of 9 years, October 6). Maine: South Portland, December 8; Avon, November 24. New Hampshire: Ossipee, November 13. Vermont: Woodstock, November 25. Massachusetts: Belmont, December 2; Harvard, November 24 (average of 6 years, October 29). Rhode Island: SoutW Auburn, November 27. Connecticut: Fairfield, December 15. New York: Dutchess County, November 30. New Jersey: Mill town, December 19. Pennsylvania: Chester County, December 24 (average of 32 years, November 5). Maryland: Laurel, December 28 (median of 7 years, November 20). District of Columbia: average of 8 years, November 16. West Virginia: Bluefleld, December 16. Virginia: Charlottesville, December 11. North Carolina: Weaverville, December 17.
Egg dates: Alberta: 6 records, May 12 to June 2; 3 records, May 18 to May 24.
Florida: 20 records, March 30 to June 12; 10 records, April 12 to April 25.
Illinois: 46 records, April 21 to June 5; 25 records, May 6 to May 22.
Massachusetts: 56 records, May 4 to June 17; 39 records, May 14 to May 21.
Maine: 42 records, May 12 to June 23; 22 records, May 25 to June 6.
New Jersey: 24 records, April 15 to May 12; 14 records, April 22 to April 29.
North Dakota: 10 records, May 10 to June 16: 5 records, May 19 to May 31. Ontario: 13 records, May 3 to June 15; 7 records, May 16 to May 29.
QUISCALUS QUISCULA QUISCULA (Linnaeus)
The above scientific name, which for so many years was used for the purple grackle of the Middle Atlantic States, is now restricted to the southern race, which formerly bore the subspeciflc name aglaeus. The reason for this change is that the Linnaean name quiscula is based on Catesby's (1731) description of the "Purple Jack Daw," which was evidently collected in South Carolina, probably in the coastal region. As Arthur T. Wayne (1910) has shown, the purple grackle is very rare in that region, the Florida grackle being the abundant resident form there, and since it is almost certain that Catesby's bird was this form, the name quiscula must be applied to the Florida grackle, the former name of which, aglaeus, must be relegated to synomymy. For a further study of the relationships and nomenclature of the grackles of this genus the reader is referred to the papers mentioned under the preceding race (p. 374: 5) .
The best description of the Florida grackle is given by Ridgway (1902), who says that it is similar to the purple grackle: but decidedly smaller (except bill and feet), and coloration far less variable; adult male with color of head, neck, and chest varying from dark purplish bronze to violet (the head usually more bluish); back, scapulars, and sides of breast dark olive-green or dull bottle green, often nearly uniform, but always with at least concealed bars of other metallic hues; rump varying from purplish bronze to violet, usually more or less spotted with steel blue, bronze, etc.; abdomen and under tail-coverts dark violet, sometimes mixed with dark blue; prevailing color of wings varying from violet purple to steel blue (the color most pronounced on greater coverts and secondaries), the middle and lesser coverts more or less barred with various metallic hues.
The range of the Florida grackle, where it is practically a permanent resident, includes the whole of peninsular Florida and extends westward along the Gulf coast, south of the range of the purple grackle, as far as southeastern Louisiana, and northward throughout the lowlands of Georgia and South Carolina .
Wayne (1910) says of the Florida grackle in coastal South Carolina: "This form of the Purple Grackle is a permanent resident in the coast region, being found at all seasons in great numbers. It is, however, a freshwater bird, rarely, if ever, visiting the salt marshes. In winter I have seen countless thousands of these beautiful birds on the rice plantations in company with the Boat-tailed Grackle, feeding upon rice which was left in the fields."
Eugene E. Murphey (1937) reports the Florida grackle as an abundant permanent resident in the middle Savanna Valley of Georgia, and says of its haunts: "Many of the fish ponds in this region have a dense growth of young cypress trees around their margins and in their shallower portions, the trees average fifteen to twenty feet in height and with their lower branches overhanging the water, and here the Florida Grackle breeds regularly. Its favorite breeding spot is, however, some old fish or mill pond where the dam has broken and the entire bed grown up into a thicket of young trees and bushes. Here it breeds in considerable colonies."
In Florida, this grackle is an abundant resident over the entire State, including the Keys as far south as Key West, according to Arthur H. Howell (1932), who says: "The Florida Grackle inhabits a variety of situations and adapts itself to very diverse conditions. The birds are usually abundant around the towns and villages, nesting in orange groves, in pines or live oaks in dooryards, or along roadsides. In the wilderness, they often nest in the smaller cypress swamps, or open pine forests, palmetto hammocks, or in bushes growing in or near a pond or stream."
Thomas D. Burleigh (1925) found about a dozen pairs living on Billy's Island in Okefenokee Swamp, in southern Georgia near the Florida line. This island "is merely a bit of solid land in the middle of seemingly endless miles of swamp, and is characterized, as are the other scattered islands, by what was once a fine virgin stand of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)." The birds seemed to show a decided preference for the remaining trees near the logging camp.
H. H. Kopman (1915) says of it in Louisiana: "This is the only form of the common Crow Blackbird that occurs in the swampy coastal section of the State, so far as I have been able to learn. It is abundant and occurs in practically all situations except the open marsh. It is often found in great flocks in the wet woods in winter and early spring. It nests chiefly in the neighborhood of habitation, especially in groves of live oaks, and water oaks."
Nesting: Burleigh (1925) says of the nests found in the tall longleaf pines on Billy's Island:
The nests, never more than one to a tree, ranged from twenty-five to fully a hundred feet from the ground, some of them being at the outer end of the upper branches where they were quite inaccessible. The average height was fifty feet, and they were usually in a crotch of one of the limbs eight or ten feet from the trunk. I managed to reach three of them, and found in two five eggs and in the third four, all of them half incubated. The nests proved very similar in construction, being well built of gray usnea moss intermized with dry pine needles and grasses, coated on the inside with mud and then well lined with fine grasses. In each case the female was incubating but flushed quietly and showed practically no concern over the nest, disappearing and not being Been again .
Referring to the nesting habits of this grackle in Florida, Bendire (1895) writes: "Most of the nests found by Dr. Ralph were placed in low bushes, from 2 to 7 feet above the water in cypress swamps; others were found in orange trees and small pines, at no great distance from the ground. One nest, containing four eggs, in which incubation was about one-fourth advanced, taken by him March 30, had been placed directly under an occupied nest of the Green Heron, with an interval of about 6 inches between them. * * ~ He says, that the nests vary somewhat in composition:
Some are made of coarse grass, leaves, etc., taken from the ground in swamps, pressed firmly together, and thickly covered on the outside with Spanish moss, with which a few pieces of grass, twigs, etc., are mixed, and they are lined with finer dry grass. In other nests the outer walls are mainly composed of coarse grass, weeds, and but little Spanish moss; these materials are cemented together with cow manure and mud, and the nests are lined with wire grass (Arisgida); again flags, wet sphagnum moss, pine needles, and small twigs are used to a considerable extent in these structures.* * *
A nest now before me, built in an orange tree, about 5 feet from the ground, measures 5~ inches in height and 8 inches in outer diameter. The inner cup of the nest is 3% inches deep by 4~ inches in diameter.
Howell (1932) says that the nests of the Florida grackle are sometimes found "in bunches of pendant Spanish moss, and not infrequently in hollow trees or broken-off stubs.
Pigeon Key, near Key Largo, is typical of many small Keys bordering the Bay of Florida; the dry, or nearly dry, land in the center supports a growth of fair-sized black mangroves, while a dense fringe of red mangroves forms an almost impassable barrier around its shores. Here on May 8, 1903, we found a small breeding colony of Florida grackles nesting in the black mangroves. I shot two of the birds for identification and collected a set of two fresh eggs from a nest about 10 feet up in a black mangrove sapling; this bulky nest, which I still have, seems to have been loosely constructed with a mass of seaweed, very coarse weed stems, small dead twigs, with a lot of moss and other rubbish in the foundation and sides; the cup is built up with somewhat finer weeds and grasses and lined with still finer grass, but it is far from being a neat structure. There were a number of other nests higher up in the larger trees; those that we examined contained young birds.
Earle R. Greene (1946) mentions two nesting sites at Key West: "A 'sandbox' tree, standing in the courtyard of the Key West postoffice has long been a favorite nesting place and a number of nests are annually built among its branches. The custodian of the building is kept busy during the season looking after young that fall to the ground, to the great concern of their parents. A 'Spanish laurel' tree on Simonton Street is another preferred nesting site; this tree is one of the finest of its kind in the area."
Eggs: The four or five eggs usually laid by the Florida grackle are practically indistinguishable from those of the purple grackle.
The measurements of 40 eggs average 29.4 by 20.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 33.0 by 20.0, 24.0 by 22.4, and 28.8 by 19.2 millimeters.
Food: In a general way, the food of the Florida grackle is similar to that of the species elsewhere, but C. J. Maynard (1896) mentions the following items, some of which are peculiar to this race:
In early Winter large flocks may be seen on the tops of the palmettoes, feeding on the fruit, and they also eat berries in their season. Later small flocks are found on the margin of streams, frequently wading into them in search of little mollusks, crabs, etc., and it is not rare to meet with one or two scattering individuals in the thick hammocks, overturning the leaves in order to find insects or small reptiles which they devour. I once saw one catch a lizard which was crawling over the fan-like frond of a palmetto, and fly with it to the ground.
The reptile squirmed all the while in its frantic endeavors to escape, but the Blackbird held it firmly and, after beating it to death, removed the skin as adroitly as if accustomed to the operation, then swallowed the body.
Wayne (1910) says: "The Florida Grackle is a very destructive bird as it eats the eggs of all birds which breed in swamps, making a systematic search for nests which contain eggs, Swainson's Warbler (Helinaja ewainscmii) being generally the victim. It also eats the eggs of the freshwater terrapin."
Winter: The Florida grackle is generally regarded as a permanent resident throughout its breeding range, but Mr. Greene (1946) says that his records indicate that it is absent from the Florida Keys from September to February, inclusive. He thinks that they may join those farther north on the mainland.
Range: The Florida grackle is resident from southeastern Louisiana (Isle Bonne, Chef Menteur) and southern Mississippi (Bay St. Louis, Agricola), to central-western and southeastern Alabama (Reform, Dothan), central Georgia (Montezuma, Augusta), eastern South Carolina (Anderson), eastern North Carolina (Lake Mattamuskeet, Kittyhawk), and southeastern Virginia (Newport News, Pungo); south to southern Florida (Key West, Grassy Key, Key Biscayne).
QUISCALUS QUISCULA VERSICOLOR Vielllott
Contributed by ALFRED OTTO GROSS
The bronzed grackle is a bird that has well adapted itself to radical changes in environment brought about by civilization. More and more of them have come to accept conditions existing about our farms and many have even invaded our populous cities and towns to nest and to roost near human habitations. They have accepted every advantage thus afforded and have thrived on the food provided by man in the waste of his door and farmyards, and especially on his bountiful crops. These birds through their extreme resourcefulness have been eminently successful as a species in maintaining and increasing their numbers in spite of persecution .
The almost universal common name applied to the grackles as a group is crow blackbird. The name is well chosen, for many of its traits, as well as its dark coloration, suggest the crow; and it is a convenience to have a common name that applies to the purple and the Florida as well as to the bronzed grackle.
These three birds are difficult for the layman to differentiate in the field, and even the ornithologist has his troubles when it comes to identifying individuals in immature plumages. Most of the details given in this account of behavior and habits, the song, food, nesting, molts, immature plumages, etc., can be applied equally to either of the other two races. The bronzed grackle intergrades with the purple, the northernmost of the two southern forms where the ranges come in contact, nevertheless it is an exceptionally stable form and shows no geographic variation in color throughout its extensive range.
Spring: A considerable number of bronzed grackles spend the winter in favorable places throughout southern New England. The first flocks, many of which are made up of a hundred or more individuals, appear during the first week of March to mark the beginning of the spring migration. They do not arrive in Maine until the middle of the month; at this time the snow is still on the ground and in the dense interiors of the coniferous forests it is still several feet deep. Usually the first arrivals I see at Brunswick are the individuals of a noisy, querulous band that land in my backyard to gobble up the food provided for the evening grosbeaks, tree sparrows, and other winter birds which are still enjoying the hospitality of my feeding stations. The grackles are audacious and greedy, but extremely restless and wary. If one individual becomes frightened the whole flock takes wing with a whirr and they are off to another section of the town, but in due time they return to repeat the raid on the feeding shelf, which meanwhile has been replenished.
The coming of few birds attract more general attention than do these conspicuous bands of noisy grackles. Their arrival creates mixed emotions. Most people have a greater thrill on seeing or hearing their first robin or bluebird. Later in the season when the great hordes of grackles have passed on and the summer residents settle down for the season, they are a more welcome sight on our lawns. The male especially is a trim and handsome fellow. His bright, piercing yellow eyes, his iridescent plumage flashing in the bright sun, his bold strides, and the swagger of his tail combine to form a personality well worth studying.
Otto Widmann (1907) gives an account of the arrival of the bronzed grackle in Missouri as follows:
Real migration begins in the latter part of February and in early March in the southeast; it reaches the central, and along the Mississippi River even the northern, in the second, less often in the third week of the month, very rarely later, as in 1906, when winter reigned to the end of March. The first-corners are probably mostly transients, bound for the north, keep in dense flocks and roost in the river bottoms. It is only after the bulk of the species has invaded the state during the latter half of March, that the first of our summer residents make their appearance on the breeding grounds and announce that they intend to occupy them again as soon as their mates have arrived. They return in the evening to the common roost and, should the weather turn bad, are not seen at their old stands again for days, but as soon as warm weather sets in they return, are joined by the first females, and mating begins with much chasing and noise making. The transit of tremendous flocks of migrants continues through the first two weeks of April, during which time the ranks of summer residents fill up, and nest-building begins. During all this time of mating and nest-building, and until incubation begins, the whole colony leave the breeding ground in the evening and go to the common roost, preferably willows in the bottoms, to which they come from all sides for miles to spend the night together.
The grackles destined to go further north proceed leisurely on their migration during March. They seem content to rove about the countryside in marauding bands in search of food, waiting for the further progress of spring. It is not until the first week of April that the first birds usually appear in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec; and in the midwestern Provinces of Canada, as well as in Colorado and Montana, it is well after the middle of April before the vanguard can be expected to arrive.
Banding and wholesale trapping of grackles has shown that the migrating flocks are not mixed but are usually made up of either males or females. The first birds that arrive in spring are males.
Courtship: Courtship starts early in the season. It has been frequently observed long before nesting activities begin; early in March one may see the amorous but ludicrous males going through their curious gestures and paying ardent attention to the females.
Sometimes two or more males will be seen in rapid pursuit of a single female. When alighting in the tree tops with other birds they adopt peculiar postures, puff out their plumage, partly open their wings, spread their tails, stretch out their necks, and hold their heads in a vertical position. Intermittently they utter the hoarse raucous calls no doubt attractive to their intended mates, but not appreciated by human ears. If disturbed, they all fly off together but when the flock returns they again separate in pairs to continue the performance as before. Charles Wendell Townsend (1920), who has closely observed the courtship of many of our birds, gives the following account of the performance of the grackle:
The courtship of the Bronzed Grackle is not inspiring. The male puffs out his feathers to twice his natural size, partly opens his wings, spreads his tail and, if he is on the ground, drags it rigidly as he walks. At the same time he sings his song: such as it is: with great vigor and abandon.* * *
During the period of courtship the male in flight depresses the central feathers of its tail forming a V-shaped keel. I was first inclined to think that this was of use in flight like a rudder, but I am inclined to think that it is in the nature of courtship display, for this arrangement of tail feathers is not seen when a bird is actively engaged in flight for the purpose of obtaining food. Under these circumstances the tail is spread in the ordinary manner.
Francis H. Allen (M. S.) supplies these notes on courtship: "May 17, 1905, Boston Common: A male following a female about. He walked close behind her with the feathers of his shoulders erected into a ruff behind his head. It was evidently to exhibit the iridescence of the feathers. Meanwhile he repeatedly uttered the jarring note which Bendire renders as tchch. June 5, 1938, West Roxbury, (Massachusetts): A pair courting on the road. The male walked around the female displaying, while the female stood still with tail closed but held elevated at an angle of about 450ï They separated without any culmination of the affair."
Nesting: The grackles are quite adaptable in their nesting habits; depending on the conditions at a particular locality, a diversity of nesting sites ranging from marshes and nests in holes of tree stumps to those near the tops of tall trees may be selected. There is little difference in the nesting habits of the races of the grackle. Some individuals nest alone in places apart from the nesting sites of their fellows, but more often flocks of a hundred pairs or more will nest close together in a grove of trees. I have seen as many as a dozen occupied nests in a single giant boxelder tree standing near my boyhood home in central Illinois. Some of the nests were saddled on large horizontal limbs, at points well over 40 feet above the ground. Two of the nests were not more than 2 feet apart. Milton B. Trautman (1940) found 28 pairs nesting in a large Norway spruce (Picea abies) at Buckeye Lake, Ohio.
These birds have readily adapted themselves to an environment created by man and have taken over orchards and shade trees near farms. The nests have been found in a variety of hardwood trees such as oaks, maples, elms, sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, etc., but the grackles always manifest a strong partiality to conifers. They have invaded not only the shade trees of our cities and towns but have built their nests in niches and suitable places on public buildings and homes, in direct competition with English sparrows and starlings.
A more primitive nesting site and perhaps one used long before the coming of white man is that of holes in large dead trees and stumps; a few are found in old nesting cavities excavated by large woodpeckers. This practice is still common in certain localities especially in the western and northern sections of the nesting range. Hartley H. T. Jackson (1923) in an account of the birds of Mamie Lake, Wis., writes: "Abundant in the vicinity of Mamie Lake, June 5 to 24, 1918, where they were nesting in the dead stumps and snags in overflows, usually at the mouth of creeks. The nests for the most part were two to four feet above the water, but were difficult of access in our canoe on account of logs, snags and fallen timber in the water."
E. S. Cameron (1907) in writing of the nesting of the bronzed grackle in Custer County, Mont., states:
These birds nest here in the holes, or hollows, of dead trees, so that their nests are generally invisible from the outside. However, on June 1, 1893, Mr. H. Tusler showed me a nest of this species placed in a hollow formed by the fork of the two main branches of a box elder. Although well protected on all sides by wood, it was possible to examine this nest, which was only six feet from the ground, and made entirely of slough grass, with a thick internal layer of mud. It contained six lovely eggs.* * *
In 1894 there was a small colony of grackles in the large cottonwoods on the south bank of the Yellowstone, below Terry ferry crossing. All the nesting holes were high and very difficult to reach, excepting one where the nest was in the top of a burnt cottonwood stump, about twelve feet from the ground. The birds had eggs on June 3, and young hatched out on June 11 which both parents were feeding on crane flies.
Robert Ridgway (1889) found many nests built inside of holes in large dead trees and in tree stumps along the river near Mount Carmel, Ill. Similar conditions are reported for southeastern Missouri where Otto Widmann (1907) states the birds "still nest in tree holes of deadenings." Many such reports seem to indicate that nesting in holes of trees is still a common practice. A modification of this habit is a unique nesting site of a pair of bronzed grackles that built their nest and reared their young in a squirrel box placed on the top of a hackberry tree at Nashville, Tenn., reported by J. R. Tippens (1936). They have also been found in birdhouses.
A departure from the usual habit of nesting in trees on the uplands is illustrated by Bendire (1895). He quotes Mr. J. W. Preston, who saw a large colony in a tract of bushy land at the northern extremity of Heron Lake, Minn.: "Here the nests were placed in low shrubs and wild-gooseberry bushes, some not more than 1 foot from the ground. * * * I have seen an odd nest of this Grackle built in a bunch of common reed (Phragmites), which looks like broom corn at a distance and grows from 5 to 12 feet high. This nest resembled that of a Yellow-headed Blackbird, the material being evenly woven together."
Along the lower Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in Illinois I have seen large numbers of grackles nesting in the willow swamps. The nests were built in willow trees at various distances, some not more than 3 or 4 feet above the water to other 30 feet high. Edmund S. Currier (1904) found one nest in an open marsh in the midst of a colony of red-winged blackbirds at Leech Lake, Minn. It is obvious that the colonial instinct of this grackle was satisfied by the presence of the redwings. "This nest was woven together in the top of a clump of flags, and its weight had lowered it to within a few inches of the water." William Brewster (1906) in writing of the nesting of the bronzed grackle in the Cambridge region of Massachusetts states:
Most of the grackles frequenting this locality build their nests in dense thickets of alders and other low bushes sometimes not more than a foot or two above the ground or water; others breed in company with the redwings in beds of cattail flags well out in the open marshes. Within the past ten years I have found a few nests placed in button bushes or among cattails growing in shallow water, at Great Meadow. This habit of nesting in swamps and marshes is unquestionably of recent origin in our neighborhood, for during earlier years of my experience the birds seldom or never resorted to very wet places excepting in autumn, when they used to assemble in large numbers at evening in the maple woods bordering on Little River where they roosted in company with Robins and Cowbirds .
On June 22, 1937 at Churchill, Manitoba, Frank L. Farley (1938) found a bulky nest of the bronzed grackle in a dead spruce standing in the water at the edge of a marsh. It was built under a thick brushy branch about 3 feet above the water.
Several observers have reported finding nests inside buildings, where the unusual associates of the grackles were barn swallows. John and James Macoun (1909) quote W. H. Moore: "This species nests in barns on islands and intervales along the St. John river, N. B.; sometimes there being three and four nests in one barn. They are usually built on beams or in the angle of a post and brace of the framework." William Youngworth (1932) reports a similar situation as follows: "In July 1929, I watched several pairs of bronzed grackles attending to nesting duties at Scranton in southwestern North Dakota. The birds had built their nests on the steel beams inside of a large coal briquet plant which was not in operation at the time." In correspondence, Lyle Miller writes that a large colony of grackles nest on the girders of a large water tower at Youngstown, Ohio, and he has also found numbers nesting on the girders of a large steel bridge at Lake Milton, Ohio. Others have reported finding them in similar situations, sometimes in places shared by nesting phoebes. A most unusual nesting site is in the bulky masses of the osprey's nests. Apparently the grackles are not molested by the giant birds, and from the associations have derived protection as well as scraps from the osprey's dinner table .
The nesting season ranges from the first week of March to the latter part of June, depending on the latitude and various conditions of the locality. In the extreme southern sections of the range, nests are common early in March. The height of the nesting season in Massachusetts is reached about the middle of May; but in Maine, and also in the more northern sections of the range, most of the nests are built in the latter part of May and in June .
The structure of the nest of the bronzed grackle varies much less than do the nesting sites. It is always a substantially built, bulky affair of sticks, coarse grass, weeds, roots, leaves, and similar materials. In most nests a liberal supply of mud in the interior serves to plaster the loose nesting materials into a more permanent mass. Inside the mud layer is a lining of fine grasses and rootlets; sometimes hair and feathers are added. Many of the nests I have seen in the corn belt of the Midwest had foundations made up almost entirely of corn husks. Some of the nests, especially those near human habitations, had the foundation materials interwoven with string, paper, and rags. The nests are deeply cupped and serve well to hold the active young that are to follow. A typical nest has an outside diameter of 7 inches and a depth of 5 inches; the nesting cavity is 4 inches in diameter and 33~ inches deep.
The nests of the grackles are usually so well made that many of them remain in good condition even after being exposed to the buffeting of winter storms. II. Elliott McClure (1945) found many such nests, eight of which were used by mourning doves .
Eggs: The eggs of the Florida, purple, and bronzed grackles are similar, and the reader is referred to Bendire's (1895) description under the account of the purple grackle. According to Bendire: "The average measurement of a series of one hundred and forty-eight specimens in the United States National Museum collection is 29.02 by 20.90 millimetres or about 1.14 by 0.82 inches. The largest egg measures 31.50 by 21.59 millimetres, or 1.24 by 0.85 inches; the smallest egg, 25.40 by 19.05 millimetres, or 1 by 0.75 inches."
The number of eggs in a set varies from three to six. Rarely have seven been found. The vast majority of the nests containing complete sets that I have examined have had four or five eggs, but six are not unusual. Ordinarily there is but one set of eggs in any one season, but if the first set of eggs or newly hatched young are destroyed, a second set will be laid.
The incubation period of the bronzed grackle is 14 days. The task of incubation is performed by the female, and I have never seen the male assist at any of the nests I have had under observation. However, the male is usually in evidence during this period and is quick to assist in defending the nest in the event an intruder appears. In fact, any unusual commotion about the nest brings the members of the entire colony to the scene after the alarm note of the male is sounded.
Young: After the young appear the male shares with the female the work of feeding them, a task which increases in arduousness with the constant demands of the young as they grow older.
Ira N. Gabrielson (1922) in a study of a nest of young in a colony near Marshalltown, Iowa, made the following observations on the feeding behavior:
A blind was placed in position at a nest seven feet from the ground in a plum tree on May 30 at 11.00 a. m. At 1.00 p. m. I entered the blind and found the parents somewhat nervous so only remained about two hours. Only the female summoned up courage to feed during that time and fed both nestlings each trip but the last. Eleven minutes after entering the blind the female appeared carrying two earthworms and two or more unrecognized insects. After hopping nervously about from limb to limb above the nest she hurriedly fed both nestlings and left. At the sixth feeding she carried seven cutworms in her beak and fed them one at a time to the two nestlings. On the last feeding she came three times and thrust her bill into the nestling's mouth, apparently without feeding. On the fourth return she fed one nestling and the fifth time returned and gave the remainder of the food to the same one.
On May 311 watched the nest from ten o'clock until three during which time the young were fed 26 times, the male feeding nine and the female seventeen times. On two occasions the parents arrived simultaneously to feed.
By the time the young are 16 days old they are fully feathered and by the 18th day they are ready to leave the nest, but if not disturbed, may remain a day or two longer. The adults continue to feed them, but as they gain strength and ability to fly they go on foraging parties and by the first week of July join the flocks at the common roost at night.
Amelia R. Laskey (1940) has written a very interesting account of a bronzed grackle obtained in May from its nest in a tree at Nashvile, Tenn., after the parents had been shot. This bird was never caged. It was placed in a basket, which served as a nest; had absolute freedom, and was normal in its development. Much of its behavior was probably similar to birds brought up by their parents. During the first few days his hunger was expressed by characteristic squawking begging notes. About 2 weeks after his arrival the partially naked little bird had become fledged and was given the freedom of the out-of-doors.
This bird revealed many traits and characteristics that remind one of pet crows kept under similar circumstances. "From July until early fall he gradually molted his juvenal plumage and acquired the beautiful glossy black feathers of the adult bronzed grackle. In reflected light his plumage was rich in glistening purples, blues, and greens. His juvenal squawkings were replaced in mid-August by the characteristic squeaking, creaking songs of his kind." In late August this bird exhibited a distinct courtship behavior toward a handraised female cardinal. The pet grackle paid no attention to other grackles that visited the garden during the 4 months he was developing. In September he made long trips of a mile or more, even visiting blackbird roosts in the vicinity, but always returning to his foster home to be fed. After September 17 there was a marked change in his behavior, and from then on he seldom spent the night at home, but returned in the morning. During the first days of October he was frequently absent during the day but made trips back to be fed and to receive the attentions of his hostess. Finally, on October 6, after being fed "he flew to the peak of the porch, wagged his tail a bit and then flew to the west, singing. This is the first time he left singing and the last time he was seen." He probably left on the migration to the south with the other members of the roost he had been visiting.
Plumages: According to Jonathan Dwight (1900), the plumages and molts of the bronzed grackle correspond to those of the purple, the descriptions of which follow:
Natal down. Pale sepia-brown.
Juvenal plumage acquired by a complete postnatal moult. Whole plumage dull clove-brown, the body feathers often very faintly edged with paler brown. Tail darker with purplish tints. Bill and feet sepia-brown, black when older.
First winter plumage acquired by a complete post juvenal moult early in August. The iridescent black dress is acquired, old and young becoming indistinguishable.
Some birds assume metallic green heads and some blue, while the backs are of all colors and patterns so that age can have nothing to do with the varied colors of this species .
First nuptial plumage acquired by wear which produces no noticeable effect as is regularly the case with iridescent plumages.
Adult winter plumage acquired by a complete post-nuptial moult beginning the first of August. Indistinguishable from first winter.
Adult nuptial plumage acquired by wear as in the young bird.
Female: In juvenal dress the female is perhaps paler below than is the male and usually indistinctly streaked. There is a complete post juvenal moult and later plumages differ from the male in being much duller and browner with few metallic reflections. They also show more wear.
H. B. Wood (1945) made a study of the molt of 146 grackles which he trapped at Harrisburg, Pa., between March 19 and September 18, 1944:
Evidence of molting, with new feathers, first appeared on July 23. The molting period extended until mid-September and with other observed grackles until mid-October. The first feathers molted were those along the edge of the wing, the last were the central tail feathers. * * * the sequence of molting was determined to be in the following order of feather groups: lesser wing-coverts, greater coverts, secondaries, forehead, crown, nape, rump, primary-coverts, upper tailcoverts, cheeks, neck, back, belly, under tail coverts, scapulars, proximal primaries, breast, chin, and finally the distal remiges and then the median rectrices.
The old axillars were retained by some birds until all but the primaries and rectrices were completed. * * * Practically all the birds exhibited great regularity in their molting areas. The proximal remiges were shed and regained quickly, but the distal four were lost in regular order and slowly redeveloped.* * *
In nearly all the birds, the secondaries were either all old or all new. * * * The median body feathers were shed and grown before the laterals, both dorsal and ventral, as along the spine before the side areas.
Frank M. Chapman (1921b) discusses the plumages of the bronzed grackle as follows: "The nestling plumage of this species resembles that of the Purple Grackle, and, as in that species, the plumage of the adult is acquired in the fall (post-iuvenal) molt. There is, however, a more pronounced difference between the color of the winter and summer plumage in the Bronzed, than in the Purple Grackle, the shining brassy back and abdomen of the fall and winter Bronzed Grackle becoming dull seal bronze in summer."
"The Bronzed may be known from the Purple and Florida Grackles by the absence of the iridescent bars which, whether exposed or concealed, are present in the back and abdomen of the other two birds."
The head and upper breast of the adult male bronzed grackle varies from greenish blue to purple, the neck and chest sometimes brassy green; rest of the plumage a uniform bronze or brassy-olive with more purplish on the wings and tail. The lesser and middle wing coverts are not marked with bars or metallic tints. The females are similar to the males but are very much smaller and duller in coloration.
L. L. Snyder (1937) in a study of 204 trapped grackles found the prismatic colors varied from a red-purple group at one end of the series to a metallic green at the other. Fourteen percent appeared in the first and 24 percent in the latter group; 62 percent were intermediates.
The average weight of 99 males was 131.4 grams and of 105 females was only 100.8 grams. The average of each of the five measurements made of the males were decidedly greater than the average of the same measurements of the females.
Mabel and John A. Gillespie (1932) have noted the eye color of immature bronzed grackles. "The youngest birds * * * possess a dark brown iris. With the acquisition of black to the feathers, the iris becomes correspondingly paler in shade. Late summer immatures often have eyes ~of greyish green. This color presumably precedes the straw yellow eye which we have always found in adult birds."
A considerable number of albinistic, chiefly partially albinistic, plumages of the bronzed grackle have been reported by various observers.
Longevity: We do not have sufficient data to determine the life expectancy of the bronzed grackle, but a number of recoveries of banded birds are of interest in this respect. Christian J. Goetz (1938) recovered three birds at his station at Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1938 that were banded at the same station in 1931, an elapsed time of 7 years. Since these birds were adults, two males and a female, they were at least 8 years old. Mr. Goetz also recovered two birds that were at least 7 years old.
May Thacher Cooke (1943) reports a bird banded as an adult at Fort Smith, Ark., April 21, 1931, and recovered 11 years later at Endora, Ark., on March 12, 1942. This bird was at least 12 years of age. A bird banded by R. T. Gordon in South Dakota, August 17, 1924, was recovered in Minnesota in October 1940 (reported by Geoffrey Gill, 1946). If this bird was an adult when banded it would be at least 17 years old, a longevity record for the bronzed grackle, as far as I have been able to ascertain.
There have been a great many recoveries of birds from 5 to 6 years of age, which probably represent the average attained by the bronzed grackle.
Food: The food of the bronzed grackle is so varied that it can be considered omnivorous. Its food, consisting of both animal and vegetable matter, varies so much with the season, the supply, and local conditions, that its economic status, like that of the crow, has aroused diverse and controversial opinions. On the credit side is the fact that much of the animal life eaten consists of destructive insects, but at times when, in late summer and autumn, this gregarious bird assembles in immense flocks, much grain, especially corn, is destroyed. It is the latter that accounts for the vast majority of complaints lodged against this bird.
The food of the whole year based on the examination of the stomach contents of 2,346 stomachs by F. E. L. Beal (1900), was 30.3 percent animal and 69.7 percent vegetable matter. In addition to insects the animal matter was composed of spiders, myriapods, crayfish, earthworms, sowbugs, snakes, snails, fish, frogs, toads, salamanders, lizards, birds, eggs, and mice.
Insect food constitutes 27 percent of the entire food for the year, and is the most interesting part of the bird's diet from an economic point of view. When it is examined month by month, the smallest quantity appears in February (less than 3 percent of the whole food): In March it rises to one-sixth, and steadily increases till May when it reaches its maximum of five-eighths of the whole; it then decreases to one-sixth in October and appears to rise again in November.* * *
The great number of insects eaten in May and June is due in part to the fact that the young are fed largely on this kind of food.
Analysis of the insect food presents many points of interest. Among the most important families of beetles are the scarabaeids, of which the common June bug or May-beetle and the rose bug are familiar examples. These insects are eaten, either as beetles or grubs, in every month except January and November; In May they constitute more than one-fifth and in June one-seventh of the entire food. The habit grackles have of following the plow to gather grubs is a matter of common observation which has been fully confirmed by stomach examinations. Many stomachs were found literally crammed with grubs.
Next in importance to beetles as an article of blackbird diet are the grasshoppers: They constitute less than 1 percent of the total February food: The proportion of grasshoppers in the stomachs increases each month up to August when it attains a maximum of 23.4 percent of all the food. After August the grasshopper diet falls off, but even in November it still constitutes 9 percent of the total for the month. The frequency with which these insects appear in the stomachs, the great numbers found in single stomachs (often more than thirty), and the fact that they are fed largely to the young, all point to the conclusion that they are preferred as an article of food and are eagerly sought at all times.
Caterpillars, including the army worm, averaged 2.3 percent in each month, but in May a maximum of more than 8 percent is reached.
A letter, from Benjamin J. Blincoe, tells of the bronzed grackle feeding on the larvae of the sphinx moth which were infesting a tobacco field: "A short time before sunset on the evening of July 21, 1932, while Mrs. Blincoe and I were motoring along a country road near Dayton, Ohio, we noticed a scattered flock of grackles, the individuals of which were alighting in a tobacco patch and in the road ahead of us. Stopping the car we soon saw dozens of the grackles alight in the road with large green larvae of the sphinx moth, that is so troublesome to the tobacco plant. Holding them securely in their mandibles, they beat the fat larvae against the ground with such force that the impact could actually be heard. We could also see many grackles picking the larvae from the rather small tobacco plants. We counted at least a hundred grackles with the larvae and I believe many more were helping with the good work of ridding the plants of the destructive larvae."
The Hymenoptera are represented mostly by ants, while flies are entirely absent. Spiders and myriapods are eaten to a small extent every month. The spiders attained a maximum of more than 7 percent in May, not only the spiders but their cocoons full of eggs appear to be taken whenever found .
In the South, A. H. Howell (1907) has revealed that the large flocks of grackles in February and March feed on the destructive boll weevil.
W. J. Howard (1937) gives an account of the grackles among other birds that were feeding on the 17-year locusts at a time of an outbreak of these insects at Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Md..
It is at the times of major insect infestations that birds become important factors in controlling destructive insects, and at such times their work becomes obvious even to the casual observer.
A few insects eaten by the bronzed grackle beneficial to man's interests and among these are a considerable number of predaceous beetles belonging mainly to the family Carabidae. These valuable destroyers of noxious insects are eaten, according to Beal (1900), in every month of the year in quantities varying from more than 7 percent of the food in January to 13 percent in June.
The comparatively few other forms of animal food eaten are of little economic importance, yet they serve to emphasize the grackle's omnivorous nature and also some of its characteristic feeding behavior.
There are numerous reports of the bronzed grackle feeding on crayfish especially from the Middle Western States. Thomas S. Roberts (1932) has written an account of the habits of this bird in capturing and eating these crustaceans:
It patrols the water's edge, often wading body-deep, and is quick to seize any moving creature, be it insect, small fish, or crawfish. It does not hesitate to plunge from a low, overhanging bush or tree-trunk, though it lacks the power and dexterity of a Kingfisher. Of crawfish it is especially fond. Dragging them, squirming and struggling, from under the stones and roots, it carries them ashore and onto a convenient, hard surface, where they are pounded and mauled until they cease struggling. The next move is to open a large hole in the back just behind the carapace, through which the meat is extracted until nothing but the empty shell remains. The writer has watched both males and females thus engaged along the shore of one of the park lakes of Minneapolis. The dead crawfish was held firmly on the ground with one foot while the white meat was picked out bit by bit and piled in a heap near by until there was a good, sizable billful, when it was gathered up and conveyed to the waiting nestlings. The ground for a quarter of a mile was strewn with discarded and fresh remains of many crawfish, showing that for days the Grackles had been supplying their young with this delectable viand.
Lorus J. Milne (1928) saw 20 bronzed grackles capturing specimens of the amphipod Gammarus fasciatus on the shallow sandy bank of a small stream flowing into Grenadier Pond, High Park, Toronto, Canada. Each bird would gather several amphipods together into a pile on the sand before eating them.
Many reports have been made of the bronzed grackle catching small fish. Mr. Frank C. Pellet (1926) observed bronzed grackles feeding on minnows at a Mississippi River power dam near Hamilton, Ill. The birds alighted in the shallow water running over the cement apron below the dam and watched for the passing minnows. When a fish was caught they flew to a nearby rock, or to the top of the dam, and hammered their victim to death. Mr. Pellet, who observed the performance for many days, is of the opinion that grackles living near water may depend upon fish to a considerable extent.
L. L. Snyder (1928) observed a bronzed grackle, perched on a stone in the center of his bird bath, spear a minnow, which was then laid on the grass at the border of the bath. The performance was repeated until the grackle had secured three minnows; these were then picked up and carried away. Upon examining the bath at a later date, he found that every one of two dozen minnows had disappeared. After several days had elapsed, the bath was restocked with fish but these likewise disappeared.
P. A. Taverner (1928) had a similar experience with grackles catching goldfish at a large pool located in his garden at Ottawa, Canada. Again and again one was seen to snatch up a fish, beat it to death on the concrete margin and then carry it away to its nest. When emptying the pool in the fall, Mr. Taverner usually took some 300 goldfish of varying sizes, but that year there were no young fish and the breeding stock was greatly reduced. Others have reported similar experiences at their fish pools.
Stanton Grant Ernst (1944) observed bronzed grackles catching, killing, and devouring small leopard frogs at a small pool located in a swampy woodlot near Olean, N. Y. Mr. Ernst describes their behavior as follows: "Circling the pool, they would suddenly run along the ground, fluttering their wings, and jab viciously at the small frogs which abound in the pool. I watched the birds kill three frogs, then frightened them away and examined the remains. Each frog was neatly pierced with a bill-sized gash in the soft throat or near the eyes." He observed them again two days later and reports: "I observed one bird eating a frog in a small oak above the pool and noted that the other was actually in the water and that the belly feathers were wet. This bird repeatedly stabbed at frogs, apparently without success, but I later found two dead frogs floating in the pool; both had been pierced through the head."
Joseph W. Hopkins, of Cob, Iowa, writes concerning the habit of the bronzed grackle in capturing mice: "In Iowa, the bronzed grackle nests in colonies in nearly every coniferous grove. They soon take notice of any farm work which involves stirring the soil and take full advantage of it. The disc harrow penetrates rather deeply, and frequently turns field mice uninjured from their burrows. I saw a male bronzed grackle pursue and stun an adult mouse. He had some difficulty in doing it, for the mouse seemed able to dodge his blows, but after a half minute of chasing and vicious pecking he was successful and flew off with the mouse in his bill. Judging from the ease with which he sprang into the air and the rate of ascent, a considerably heavier load could be carried."
One of the most serious complaints lodged by the bird lover against the bronzed grackle is its pernicious habit of destroying the eggs and young of other birds and its practice of killing small adult birds. J. Nelson Gowanlock (1914), Winnipeg, Canada, observed a bronzed grackle visit all of the homes of an entire block at regular intervals of every 4 or 5 days. The grackle "entered the nests of the English sparrows built in the corners, and, after eating the eggs or young, would emerge, stand a moment or two ignoring the throng of distracted sparrows, and then fly on to the next house where the scene would be repeated. * * * he was certainly the coolest, most methodical and heartless nest robber I have ever seen or heard of."
Charles W. Townsend (1920) writes: "Robins' nests in the vines of my house have been despoiled of their eggs and young by this bird, and I have known it to kill adult birds of moderate size. I once found a Grackle holding down the freshly killed body of a Bicknell's Thrush while it pecked out its brains."
J. M. Wheaton (1882) writes: "I have repeatedly seen them destroy the nest and eggs of the chipping sparrow, built in my own garden. This appeared to be from mere love of mischief, as they were not content with destroying the eggs but returned to demolish the nest, and again pulled to pieces the half finished nest which the birds rebuilt."
K. Christofferson (1927), Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., saw a bronzed grackle kill two pine siskins, benumbed by cold, by pecking the birds on the head. The brains were devoured, leaving only a part of the skull. He also saw a bronzed grackle kill a young barn swallow.
There are many cases on record of bronzed grackles killing English sparrows. E. H. Forbush (1927) relates the following incident:
I saw a Bronzed Grackle on Boston Common with a full-grown dead "English" sparrow which it tried to carry away, as I thought, in its claws, but it dropped the smaller bird after flying up a few feet from the ground. In a letter received from Dr. John W. Dewis he says that he and others saw a flock of sparrows on the wing, pursuing and apparently attacking a Bronzed Grackle, also in flight and carrying a live sparrow in its bill. When a few feet from the ground the grackle dropped his prey which was fluttering, and squatted over it, threatening the sparrows which soon gave up the fight. The grackle then pecked out the eyes of its victim, disembowled it, ate the muscle from its right breast and left it. The bird proved to be a full-fledged "English" sparrow.
In Maine, grackles are frequently seen at the edges of ponds, or on salt water mud flats, where they secure worms, small crustaceans, and other edible articles. Occasionally, they will feed on a large dead fish left by the receding tide, and along fresh water ponds they have been known to pick up dead frogs and snakes, as well as fish that have drifted ashore. At times grackles even visit garbage dumps, with starlings, to pick up miscellaneous waste food .
I have often seen them feeding among the animals in piggeries, where this sleek, well-groomed bird seemed decidedly out of place; and they frequent the door yards of homes in cities and towns, as well as of farms, where they obtain bits of bread and other food. Hard bread they may first soak in water, if a convenient pool or bird bath is near, until it is soft and easily swallowed. They have been seen to retrieve bits of food floating on the water. William Brewster (1937) gives an account of grackles taking bread and crackers from the water at Lake Umbagog, Maine, as follows: "Today I saw them dip their legs to the thighs in the water and repeatedly one immersed the lower half of its body, also apparently floating on the water for an instant. The food was invariably taken up in the bill however."
The vegetable food of the grackle is as variable and diversified as the animal food, showing plainly that when one article of diet is not available, this very adaptable bird turns to food more easily obtained. Of the various items of vegetable food, the chief interest centers about grain and fruit, and it is through the consumption of these that blackbirds inflict the greatest damage on man. Frequent complaints have been made against the grackle by the farmer because of the large quantities of grain eaten, especially when immense flocks descend on the grain fields. According to F. E. L. Beal (1900), "the stomach contents were found to contain corn, oats, wheat, rye and buckwheat and of these, corn is the favorite, having been found in 1,321 stomachs, or more than 56 percent of the whole number. It is eaten in all seasons of the year; and in every month except January, July, August land November amounts to more than one-half of the total vegetable food. * * * "In August corn amounts to one-seventh of the whole food, and this together with a part taken in September, is green corn 'in the milk'." The birds easily strip the green husks from the ears in order to reach the growing corn and what they do not eat is left exposed to the weather to dry or rot. The maximum amount of corn, 82 percent, is eaten in February, according to Beal. At this season it is waste grain and of no economic importance.
Oats, eaten in irregular quantities, in August, forms 26 percent of the total food, this being the only month of the year in which this grain reaches a higher percentage than corn. In the southern States, bronzed grackles prey upon rice in company with other blackbirds and bobolinks.
Fruit is eaten in every month from March to December, but it does not become important until "in June, July and August it reaches 7, 13, and 10 percent respectively." The fruits of economic interest are blackberries, raspberries, cherries, currants, grapes, and apples. Blackberries and raspberries, the favorites, make up the bulk of the fruit eaten. The vast majority of the fruits eaten are wild and hence are not important from the standpoint of man's interests.
Weed seeds are freely eaten, especially during the colder months reaching a maximum of 11 percent in October. Chestnuts, acorns, and beechnuts form an important item of the food in the fall and early spring months.
Mr. A. W. Schorger (1941) has found that the bronzed grackle feeds freely on acorns, aided by a special ridge or keel located on the palate. We found the birds successfully opened small acorns of the yellow, Hill's scarlet, bur and pin oaks, but the normal acorn of the white and northern oak were too large to be manipulated. Attempts to open small acorns of the white oak were seldom successful due to the toughness of the shell. No fragments of the shell are eaten but the entire kernel is swallowed. Miscellaneous mineral substances such as sand, gravel, pieces of brick, bits of mortar, plaster of Paris, coal, cinders, etc., are eaten by the grackle to assist in grinding the food.
According to Beal, (1900) the food of 456 young collected from May 22 to June 30, inclusive, was made up of 74.4 percent animal and 25.6 percent vegetable matter. The animal food of the young is chiefly insects, amounting to 70 percent of the total food. During the first few days the young are fed chiefly on spiders and soft bodied insects in the form of larvae or grubs. Grasshoppers and crickets are a common food of the young, and as they grow older, hard shelled insects such as beetles are included in their diet .
Ira N. Gabrielson (1922) in the course of a study of a nesting colony of bronzed grackles near Marshalltown, Iowa, found the parent birds were flying to a partially inundated pastureland to secure cutworms, earthworms, crickets, spiders, tumble bugs, ground beetles, and other insects that had migrated into the short grass on little knolls to escape the high water. There were 16 nests and each of the 32 parents made an average of 6 trips for food per hour. At one nest observed from a blind, Mr. Gabrielson witnessed 33 feedings during the course of 7 hours. He saw the adults deliver 12 earthworms, 9 crickets, 60 cutworms, 2 spiders, 2 kernels of corn, and 7 unknown insects which were taken from the bountiful source in the pastureland.
The vegetable food of the young consists chiefly of corn and fruit but the corn, comprising 15 percent of the total food, is fed only to the older birds. The nestling bronzed grackles,. in eating insect pests such as cutworms, May beetles, weevils, and grasshoppers far outweigh the harm done by the consumption of corn.
Because of the variable nature of the food of the bronzed grackle, there is little wonder that a marked difference of opinion has arisen in regard to its economic status. However, not until we have a view of the entire picture, can we safely pass judgment. There seems to be no justification of a general control of this species but when thousands of these birds descend on a farmer's cornfields, he should be permitted to employ every reasonable means to protect his interests.
Behavior: The bronzed grackle, a sleek, well-groomed bird, is striking in appearance when his iridescent plumage flashes its varied colors in the bright sun. A single bird may sometimes appear cowardly toward an adversary, but in a group the grackles are aggressive. I have seen a mass of 40 give chase to a large, powerful eagle that flew over the colony and continue to harass the intruder until it was well away from their nesting place. Louis B. Kalter (1932) saw six to eight hundred grackles perched in some oaks near a small lake. About a third of them, apparently without provocation, left and pursued an osprey, which, with the birds in pursuit, circled the lake twice, then climbed higher into the air where the wind was much stronger and colder. The grackles abandoned the chase.
Two males will fight fiercely in competition for a female, and they frequently battle in the colony in defense of their territories. Grackles are devoted to their young and seem fearless in defending them from danger. One only needs to climb a tree containing a nest of young to be impressed with the vigor and boldness of their attacks. I have had them strike me with blows sufficient to knock off my hat when I attempted to remove a squawking young for closer examination.
Sometimes, when subjected to unusual conditions or under stress of hunger, grackles resort to wholesale killing. Ruthven Deane (1895) gives an account, by Jesse N. Cummings, of the activities of crow blackbirds at Anahuac, Tex. On February 14-15, 1895, an unusual snowstorm lasting 30 hours covered the ground to a depth of 20 inches on the level and remained for 3 or 4 days. On a large piece of ground along the bay shore, kept free of snow by water flowing from an artesian well, about 200 jack snipe gathered in a space not over 100 feet square. There, Cummings saw rusty and bronzed grackles kill 10 or 12 of the birds and he counted 30 or 40 dead ones in other places. At this same time the blackbirds also attacked the robins about his house, and while he did not ascertain the numbers killed, he saw many lying on the snow about his place and along the shore of the bay. The blackbirds fed on the brains of their victims, leaving the remainder of the body untouched. Presumably this behavior was brought about by the lack of other accessible food, as a result of the snowstorm. While the killing of birds for food is not unusual, in a number of cases it has seemed that the killing of birds and destruction of their nests and eggs was purely an act of destruction.
In striking contrast to this type of behavior is a case reported by Wilson Baillairge (1930) in which a bronzed grackle served as a foster parent to chipping sparrows at St. Michel, Quebec, Canada. He writes:
I frequently noticed a pair of Bronzed Grackles about the house. Whenever we went on the gallery the female Grackle flew from branch to branch in a near-by tree, scolding noisily. I looked for her nest but could not find it, but did find a Chipping Sparrow's nest containing three young, in a grape vine trained along the gallery. I was surprised not to see any sign of the parent Chipping Sparrows, and watched the nest carefully.* ** Finally, I saw the female Grackle go to the nest and feed the young Chipping Sparrows; she fed them three or four times in my presence, not more than a few feet from me. That afternoon one of the young Chipping Sparrows flew from the nest to a tree nearby, and was followed by the female Bronzed Grackle, which showed every sign of maternal anxiety."
Francis H. Allen (MS.) reveals the resourcefulness of this bird under unusual conditions: "For at least two years a male grackle that spent its summers on or near the Boston Public Garden lived and throve with a malformed bill that interfered with feeding in the normal way. The upper mandible was about twice as long as the lower, which appeared to be normal length. It was also decurved and flattened and had a squarish tip. When feeding on the ground the bird had to turn its head to one side to pick up its food, though no such accommodation was necessary when it picked insects from the top of the grass. Probably no bird less hardy and less resourceful than a grackle could have survived so long with such a handicap.
"On one occasion I saw a grackle get completely under a newspaper lying on the ground in the Boston Public Garden, for the purpose of feeding. Each time the paper, or part of it, was raised considerably from the ground. This illustrates the enterprising character of the grackle."
Grackles have been seen anointing their plumage with the juices of certain fruits, and with acid or pungent substances derived from the hulls of fruits and nuts. Certain birds are well known to use ants for this purpose, a behavior called anting. This term has come to be generally applied to cases where other substances are used. The purpose of this act is not clear although a number of theories, for example, to repel parasites, have been advanced.
Mr. H. R. Ivor (1941) has observed the bronzed grackle going through the performance of "anting" with choke cherries. He has seen none of the many other birds he has observed "anting" use this fruit for that purpose. On July 3, 1945, G. Hapgood Parks (1945) saw a male bronzed grackle anointing its feathers with juices derived from the green fruits of the cucumber tree (Magnolia accuminata Linnaeus). The bird was seen to take pieces of the fruit, and, frequently, entire "cucumbers" in his bill and rub them vigorously against his breast and body feathers. The bird preened his feathers with unusual industry. The tail and wing feathers as well as the body, breast, and neck received energetic attention. It also frequently scratched the head and neck first with one foot and then the other. The bird was trapped and found to be in normal condition and had the usual brilliant iridescence of its feathers. No parasites were found. A half hour later after releasing the banded bird, Mr. Parks saw two other unbanded, adult male bronzed grackles go through the identical behavior of "anting" with the cucumber tree fruits. Judging from the number of reports, the practice of anointing the plumage with various substances is not a rare behavior among grackles.
Voice: The notes of the bronzed grackle are not pleasing and beautiful, nor are they at all musical, but they are characteristic and easily recognized. The song consists of one or two short notes followed by a prolonged squawk. The quality is harsh and squeaky, with a peculiar metallic sound difficult to describe. It has been likened to a noise of a squeaky hinge on an iron gate. A. A. Saunders (1935) has interpreted the call by K- lchdkil k ~, kuwd -d, saying: "The male often produces this sound with a spreading and fluttering of the wings which resemble similar actions of singing Red-winged Blackbirds and Cowbirds." F. Schuyler Mathews (1921) compares the queer noises uttered by the grackles with "rattling shutters, watchmen's rattles, ungreased cart wheels, vibrating wire springs, broken piano wires, the squeak of a chair moved on a hardwood floor, the chink of broken glass, the scrape of the bow on a fiddle string, and the rest of those discords which commonly play havoc with one's nerves!" When a large number of grackles are singing in chorus all of these discordant sounds are beyond description .
The ordinary call note is a hoarse loud chuck or harsh clack. When answering the call, a fellow grackle may utter a kind of subdued cuk.
Witmer Stone (1937) describes the notes uttered at a nesting colony of grackles as follows: "About the nest trees there is a constant chorus of harsh alarm calls; chuck; chuck; chuck; like the sound produced by drawing the side of the tongue away from the teeth, interspersed with an occasional long-drawn seeek, these calls being uttered by birds on the wing as well as by those that are perching. Then at intervals from a perching male comes the explosive rasping song chu-seek accompanied by the characteristic lifting of the shoulders, spreading of the wings and tail, and swelling up of the entire plumage."
Francis H. Allen has sent us the following observations: "Among the less common notes of the bronzed grackle is a low-pitched mellow whistle, rather short, with an r in it, which might be rendered as pree. The r is not prominent and the effect is sweet and pleasing and quite ungrackle like. Another note, probably a courtship note, heard April 9, 1934, consisted of a sort of chi or ski; it was given generally three times in succession, but sometimes only twice. It was uttered both when the birds were perched and when two or three were flying together in what looked like a courtship flight."
Robert Ridgway (1889) in comparing the notes of the bronzed and purple grackles writes: "From an almost equal familiarity with the two birds, we are able to say that their notes differ decidedly, especially those of the male during the breeding season, the song of the western bird being very much louder and more musical, or metallic, than of its eastern relative." However, Aretas A. Saunders who has studied the songs of both forms intensely, fails to find any difference between the songs of the bronzed and purple grackle.
Enemies: Man can be considered one of the worst enemies of the bronzed grackle, for great numbers are killed and poisoned, especially at the large roosts by farmers and others in their efforts to protect their crops. And many are killed for food, especially in the southern sections of the range. In a willow growth along the Mississippi River near Cairo, Ill., I saw a group of hunters enter a populous roost of grackles with shotguns, at sunset. After firing several volleys they picked up over three hundred of the birds. When questioned the hunters stated the birds were to be used as food for themselves and neighbors.
Grackles like other passerine birds have their enemies among the larger hawks and owls. A. K. Fisher (1893) reported finding the remains of grackles in the stomach contents of the marsh, Cooper's and red-tailed hawks and the short-eared owl. I found in the nest of the horned owl the remains of a grackle which had been brought by the parent birds to feed the young. The behavior of the grackles when a hawk or an owl appears near their nesting places is evidence that they are considered enemies.
Squirrels have been known to destroy the eggs and young of the grackle. Robert Ridgway (1889) saw a fox squirrel emerge from a bronzed grackle's nest, built in a hole in a large tree, with a young grackle in its mouth. "The squirrel was attacked by a number of the blackbirds, who were greatly excited, but it paid no attention to their demonstrations, and, after descending scampered into the woods with its prey."
Bagg and Elliott (1937) report that live grackles have been found with sticks completely pierced through the body. One bird that was shot had a smooth twig somewhat smaller than a pencil protruding four inches from the abdomen. "The bird must have carried the twig for some time, as it was worn smooth and the skin had grown firmly about it." Such accidents may occur when the birds are disturbed and caused to dash about in wild confusion at the roosts. I have seen birds of other species that apparently had rammed themselves into the stiff dead twigs of spruces .
Kenyon and Uttal (1941) report an unusual case in which a young grackle about two weeks old had met its death by swallowing a string. "A double length of string passed through the esophagus terminating in a tightly packed wad of string in the proven triculus and ventriculus; thus making an exit through the pyloris impossible. The total length of the string, including some three or four inches which protruded from the mouth, was eleven feet, ten inches."
Although a hardy bird, the bronzed grackle may succumb to storms and sudden changes of temperature. H. Elliott McClure (1945) found nine bronzed grackles among other birds that had been killed in the city park at Portsmouth, Iowa, by a tornado of moderate velocity that had struck the city. In a winter roost of bronzed grackles, starlings, cowbirds and redwings at Urbana, Ill., Odum and Pitelka (1939) found 63 dead bronzed grackles, among the many other birds, killed by a driving wind and rain storm followed by a sharp dip in the temperature: "The proportion of Bronzed Grackles and Cowbirds to Starlings in the total storm mortality was certainly much greater than that in the total roosting flock."
The bronzed grackle is sometimes parasitized by the cowbird; Herbert Friedmann (1929) reports three nests in Illinois and one nest in Iowa which contained eggs of the eastern cowbird and one nest in North Dakota parasitized by the Nevada cowbird (Molothruater artemisiae). Later Friedmann (1931) reported a nest of the bronzed grackle found in Texas which contained an egg of the Eastern cowbird.
It is of interest to note, although not involving parasitism, that eggs of other birds have been found in nests of grackles. M. G. Vaiden of Rosedale, Miss., states that in a mixed colony of bronzed grackles and mourning doves he found a nest of the bronzed grackle containing three young grackles and an egg of the mourning dove.
Most birds have been found to have a number of external parasites and the bronzed grackle is not an exception. Harold Peters (1936) has found the two lice, Degeeriella illustrious (Kell.), and Menacant hue chrysophaeum (Kell.), the fly, Ornithoiea confluenta Say, and the tick, Haemafphyealis leporie-patuetris Packard, on specimens of the bronzed grackle.
A new blood parasite Haemoproteue guiecalus obtained from the blood of the bronzed grackle has been described by Coatney and West (1938).
Fall: It is in late summer and autumn when the gregarious bronzed grackles congregate by the thousands, and often in hundreds of thousands, that they become one of our most conspicuous forms of bird life. These birds attract unusual attention when the roosts are near human habitations in the midst of our cities and towns. Dr. Lynds Jones (1897) has written an excellent paper concerning such a roost that was located on the college campus at Oberlin, Ohio, during the summer and fall of 1896. He describes conditions typical of many similar roosts. The vanguard of the grackles, which reached Oberlin on March 9, was greatly increased by March 28. From this time on flocks of varying size visited the roost but none passed the night in it. On April 20 the first nest was found and by May 14, young birds. May 16 was the first day when considerable numbers began to spend the night at the roost. On May 21, 100 birds were counted leaving the roost in the morning and on May 23, 352, of which all were adult males except one young with tail feathers half grown. Since the birds did not go far, Jones assumed that most of them had nests in or near the village.
This small company was recruited from day to day by old males and a little later by the more forward young. About July 10 adult females and more young came to the roost as the nests were deserted. At this time the trees became so crowded with birds that other places were sought by the overflow. On July 17 the birds came in at the rate of 52 per minute for an hour, the flight terminating with the arrival of an uncountable company just at sunset. Approximately 5,000 birds were in the trees of the roost, and many others in neighboring trees.
During the early part of July the birds did not wander far from the roost at any time, but by August 1 none were seen in the town during the day. From this time on the birds arrived in greater companies, after considerable flights across the country. The gregarious instinct asserted itself more and more as the season advanced and the necessity of a wider feeding ground increased. The numerous small flocks joined together until there was but the one huge flock, with a few stragglers.
On September 7 the first note beard in the colony was at 4 a.m. By 4:30 many were singing and shifting about in the trees; and at 4:40, 300 were counted leaving the trees. At 5:04, the birds of the roost arose, not in one mass: but in consecutive order from the south to the north edge of the group of trees, as though by previous arrangement, giving the impression that the foliage was melting away into that black stream. * * * As long as it could be seen, the flock remained intact, and did not stop to rest. The flight was near the ground, and followed the contour of the country closely, rising only to clear farm buildings and woods, then dipping again to the former level. The lowermost birds were scarcely more than twenty feet from the ground. While the birds were flying there was no singing and not much noise of any kind except that made by the wings. It was evident that the birds had some definite feeding ground selected, toward which they were hurrying in a straight line .
In the evening the first birds arrived at the roost at 5:14 p.m. Between 5:34 and 5:45 about 5,000 arrived, coming in companies of from 200 to 800, an almost continuous flight. The birds continued to come in until a few minutes after 6. By 6:15 practically all were out of sight in the foliage and a few minutes later all noise had stopped.
A study of the flocks at a point away from the roost revealed that the mass assumed definite patterns of narrowed and expanded parts. It became more drawn out and broken as it proceeded. The vanguard would stop at some treetop and rest until the others had passed over, at which time it arose and formed the rear guard. In this way the whole flock secured a short breathing time, part by part. Rarely, two flocks were formed during the flight .
"There was no diminution in the number occupying the roost up to September 21, but not one bird appeared at the old stand on the two succeeding days. On the 24th less than a hundred occupied the trees during the night and none visited it afterwards."
Charles R. Keyes (1888) describes the great blackbird flights at Burlington, Iowa, as follows:
During September and October the cornfields of Iowa are visited by countless numbers of these black marauders, which wander about in mixed flocks of several thousands, passing the day in the fields and the night in woodland or marshes. And it is during this period that so many thousands are poisoned and killed by the farmers. About the first of October the birds begin * * * to rise out of the swamps and radiate in all directions towards the inland cornfields, where they spend the day, returning again to the swamps before sunset. These flocks are often a quarter of a mile in width and are more than an hour in passing: a great black band slowly writhing like some mighty serpent across the heavens in either direction, its extremities lost to view in the dim and distant horizon. Not infrequently, three or four such vast flocks are in sight at one time. How far away from their night resorts they go each day has not been observed; an hour and a half before sunset, twelve miles away from the river, the mighty armies of Blackbirds are still seen coming over the distant hills and directing their course toward the marshes. It is evident, however, that many miles are daily traversed in their journeys to and from the feeding grounds. Making liberal deductions for any possibility of over estimating, the numerical minimum of individuals in a single flock cannot be far from twenty millions.
It has been noted by many observers that the times when blackbirds arrive and leave the roost varies according to the length of day. Margaret M. Nice (1935) made observations of the bronzed grackles and starlings which roosted in the shade trees of a residential district of Columbus, Ohio. For 9 days, October 6 through 15, 1934, she determined with a Weston photometer the light values in the morning and evening at the times the birds left and arrived at the roost. On seven clear mornings their first flights left from 7 to 9 minutes before sunrise at light values of 13 to 16 foot-candles (median 14). On one cloudy morning they left 3 minutes before sunrise at a light value of 13.5 footcandle. The largest flocks left at light values of 20.5 to 29 footcandles. In the evening the first flocks were seen about half an hour before sunset. Light values ranged from 114 to 40 foot-candles but the height usually occurred between 65 and 52 foot-candles. The flight ended just about sunest, from 1 minute before to 3 after. Mrs. Nice determined that leaving and returning to the roost was closely correlated with light, and that the grackles went to roost when the light was about three times as bright as it was when they left it .
E. H. Forbush (1907) gives a graphic account of bronzed grackles on their fall migration flight which he observed at Concord, Mass., on October 28, 1904, as follows:
From my post of observation, on a hilltop, an army of birds could be seen extending across the sky from one horizon to the other. As one of my companions remarked, it was a great "rainbow of birds;" as they passed overhead, the line appeared to be about three rods wide and about one hundred feet above the hilltop. This column of birds appeared as perfect in form as a platoon. The individual birds were not flying in the direction in which the column extended, but diagonally across it; and when one considers the difficulty of keeping a platoon of men in line when marching shoulder to shoulder, the precision with which this host of birds kept their line across the sky seems marvelous. As the line passed overhead, it extended nearly east and west. The birds seemed to be flying in a course considerably west of south, and thus the column was drifting southwest. As the left of the line passed over Concord meadows, its end was seen in the distance, but the other end of this mighty army extended beyond the western horizon. The flight was watched until it was out of sight, and then followed with a glass until it disappeared in the distance. It never faltered, broke, or wavered, but kept straight on into the gloom of night. The whole array presented no such appearance as the unformed flocks ordinarily seen earlier in the season, but was of finer formation than I have ever seen elsewhere, among either land birds or waterfowl. It seemed to be a migration of all the Crow Blackbirds in the region, and there appeared to be a few Rusty Blackbirds with them. After that date I saw but one Crow Blackbird. It was impossible to estimate the number of birds in this flight. My companions believed there were millions.
Dr. Charles Blake of Lincoln, Mass., has written us concerning a flock of 3,100 bronzed grackles he observed on their migratory flight, October 30, 1942. The flock, which required 15 minutes to pass, was about 300 feet wide but contained a fixed wave so that the flight was undulated over a width of fully three-tenths of a mile.
Recoveries of bronzed grackles banded by Charles B. Floyd (1926), Mabel Gillespie (1930), and others, clearly indicate that the fall migration is in a southwesterly direction along the Atlantic coast.
Many grackles banded in New England during the spring migration travel northeastward to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and eastern Quebec.
Samuel E. Perkins III (1932) in compiling the recoveries of bronzed grackles banded at a dozen stations in different parts of Indiana discovered those birds wintered in a narrow, restricted area between Louisiana and Alabama. Purple grackles banded by Horace D. McCann (1931) in Pennsylvania likewise have the same habit of keeping to a restricted east-to-west winter range, not more than 100 miles across. Many other birds, such as the robin and mourning dove, have shown a distinct tendency to spread out fanlike in their fall migration to the south and to winter in a very wide area.
Examples of other interesting recoveries of the bronzed grackle are: One banded at Ottawa, Canada, taken in North Carolina; one banded in Saskatchewan, taken in Louisiana; and T. E. Musselmann has written me that a grackle banded at Quincy, Ill., in the spring of 1947 was taken 3 months later at a point 3,000 miles north in Alberta, Canada. As many such records accumulate in the future, we shall gain a clearer picture of the migratory routes as well as the summer and winter distribution of specific populations.
The distribution of the bronzed grackle over the various types of crops and farm land in Illinois was determined by a statistical survey conducted in 1906: 1907 and reported by Forbes (1907, 1908), and by Forbes and Gross (1923). The sight of large flocks in the grain fields, especially in the autumn, leads us to a natural misconception of their distribution as a whole, but when adequate samples are taken of all types of land and crops under all conditions of weather and all times of day, as was done on this survey, a truer picture is gained of their status in relation to the crops. The survey was conducted continuously throughout an entire year but the results of one trip taken from the Indiana line to Quincy on the Mississippi River, from August 28 to October 17, 1906, will serve to illustrate this point. The accumulated records, revealed that the bronzed grackle was the most abundant of the native birds, representing 11 percent of the total population of all the birds of the agricultural areas, an average of 94 grackles per square mile. The interesting fact, however, is that their numbers were greatest not on grain fields, but on pasturelands, where 90 percent of this species was found at a population density of 307 birds per square mile. Only 4 percent of the grackles, at a density of only 10 per square mile, were found in corn; and 4 percent, at a density of 21 birds per square mile, were present in stubble.
Winter: The bronzed grackles which occupy the extreme northern parts of the nesting range migrate to the south in the fall. In New England the great mass of birds leave by the end of October, but in this region, especially southern New England, many individuals remain throughout the winter. Likewise, in the Midwestern States south of the Great Lakes at least a few birds seem successful in combating the rigors of cold weather and snow. In these northern sections of the winter range, the birds are generally seen as individuals, or else in very small groups, but large flocks are sometimes reported as late as November.
Milton B. Trautman (1940) found bronzed grackles wintering at Buckeye Lake, Ohio. In some years not more than 12 individuals were noted, but in other winters the aggregate numbers of the small groups ranged from 100 to 300 birds. "The wintering birds remained chiefly about the barn yards, in fields where stock was fed and in the larger uncut cornfields. They roosted in spruces, in cattail marshes and in the brush of. inland swamps."
Otto Widmann (1907) writes concerning the wintering of these birds in Missouri as follows:
As a winter visitant the bronzed grackle is rare except along the Mississippi River from St. Louis southward. Opposite St. Charles along the hank of the Missouri River there is a large swampy tract of willows used as a winter roost for innumerable red-wings and with them hundreds of bronzed grackles have been seen going even in the middle of January, in mild weather, but as their numbers change constantly, there are hardly two days alike, showing that they also use other roosts farther south, to which they fly when the weather is not inviting northward. Should weather conditions remain unfavorable, the roost may remain deserted or nearly so for weeks at a time, until a change sets in when they appear again. Away from the roost they are seldom met with, because they go far to favorite feeding grounds and scatter over a large territory .
In the southern part of the winter range, along the Gulf coast from Florida to southern Texas, the bronzed grackle mingles with the southern forms of grackles and other blackbirds at the roosts as well as on foraging expeditions for food during the day .
Range: Western and southern Canada to Alabama and Georgia.
Breeding Range: The bronzed grackle breeds from northeastern British Columbia (Tupper Creek), central-southern Mackenzie (Fort Simpson, Fort Smith), central Saskatchewan (Flotten Lake, Cumberland House), central and northeastern Manitoba (Grand Rapids, Churchill), western, central, and northeastern Ontario (Favourable Lake, Rossport, Moose Factory), southern Quebec (Blue Sea Lake, Anticosti Island, La Tabati4rre), southwestern Newfoundland, and northern Nova Scotia (Baddeck, Sydney); south along the eastern slope of the Rockies to central-southern and southeastern Colorado (Denver, Beulah, Fort Lyon), central and southeastern Texas (Abilene, Galveston), southwestern and central Louisiana (Calcasieu, Vidalia), western and northern Mississippi (Centervile, Baidwyn), northern Tennessee (Nashville), Kentucky, central West Virginia (Nicholas County, Franklin), central Pennsylvania (State College), central New York (Ithaca, Troy), northern Connecticut (Litchfield), Rhode Island, and southeastern Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard, Dennis); also on Shelter Island, at the eastern end of Long Island, New York.
Winter Range: Winters casually north to northern Minnesota (Fosston, Grand Marais), southern Wisconsin (Racine), southern Michigan (Vicksburg, Ann Arbor), southern Ontario (Kitchener, Gananoque), and along the Atlantic coast to New Brunswick (Memramcook) and central Nova Scotia (Wolfville); south to southern Texas (Mission), southern Mississippi (Biloxi), central Alabama (Greensboro), southern Georgia (Fitzgerald), and South Carolina (Aiken, Mount Pleasant).
Casual recorda: Casual in eastern Washington (Whitman County), Nevada (Failon, Crystal Springs), central-southern Texas (Fort Clark), northern Ontario (Fort Severn), and on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.