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What is a Grackle?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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A grackle is a bird in the Passeriformes order, which includes a wide range of avians from lyrebirds to canaries. Grackles are found throughout the Americas, where they are treated as obnoxious pests in some regions and pets in others, depending on the species. These birds are highly intelligent; some species have demonstrated remarkable problem solving ability, and some individuals can be taught to talk. Like other Passerines, the grackle is a relatively small bird, with three forward-facing toes and one toe which faces the other way, allowing the birds to readily grip a variety of surfaces for perching.

A number of birds are classified as grackles, although most people think specifically of the Common Grackle, a very well known individual grackle species, when they hear that grackles are under discussion. Members of four different genera in the Icteridae family are considered grackles, for a total of 11 grackle species altogether. These species are found in various regions of North and South America.

Most grackles have iridescent black plumage, although some species have bright spots like yellow or red, especially on their heads and chests. Many of them look like blackbirds, but they can be distinguished by their tails, which are somewhat longer and more shapely. The birds are also very gregarious, and they are often found in large groups. Some grackles get very territorial, especially during nesting season, and the birds periodically make it into the news when they attack unwitting humans.

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Grackles are adept at finding sources of food in a wide range of environments. In addition to eating seeds, they will also eat insects, worms, and smaller birds. Some people regard grackles as beneficial since they eat crop pests and annoying insects, but farmers struggle with large grackle flocks, as they can decimate crops like wheat or corn with their rapacious appetites.

Although the grackle is related to many song-birds, these birds are far from musical. Most of the sounds they make are harsh, and some people compare the call of a grackle to a creaking, rusty gate. The birds can be quite intimidating in a large flock, and in regions with a large bird population, they can seem like the thugs of the bird world, since they will attack and beat up other birds. This scrappy behavior might not be very nice, but it seems to be an effective evolutionary tool, since grackles are quite abundant across the Americas.

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