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Pagosa Springs
Monday, October 18, 2021

Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the common grackle.

In a group of blackbirds, the longer, taller, common grackle stands out. These noisy, gregarious birds are often found foraging on the ground with other blackbirds, cowbirds and starlings. They inhabit landscapes altered by humans and are common in agricultural fields and city parks. In winter, they are found in large communal flocks, numbering in the millions of birds, with other blackbirds.

These omnivores subsist mainly on seeds, especially those of agricultural grains. Large flocks pose a real economic threat to corn farmers. They also consume sunflower seeds, acorns, fruits and garbage. In summer, they rely on a carnivorous diet and eat beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, caterpillars, fish, frogs, mice and even other birds.

These are among the birds, including the flicker, which practice a cleaning habit known as anting. By lying down next to an ant hill, they encourage ants to crawl over their bodies and feathers. The ants secrete formic acid, which kills parasites on the birds. Common grackles have also been observed using walnut juice, lemons, limes, marigolds, chokecherries and mothballs to achieve the same result.

Seen in the right light, the iridescent bluish head and bronze tones on the body make the male common grackle a beautiful bird. Long legs, a long tail, a long, heavy bill and golden colored eyes are identifying marks. Females are a less glossy version of the male. Both sexes sing a not-so-beautiful song described as being like the noise of opening a rusty gate.

The common grackle is not a common bird here, but is spotted in summer months.

For information on activities, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.

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