Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The 43nd day of summer shines upon the lawn, plauged with birds, Wednesday, August 1st, 2012. On day of the Common Grackle, we say hello to August and hello to 51 days of summer that await.

The grackle reminds me of the mockingbirds of Dallas, and a street that crosses Preston Boulevard has many, many mockingbirds enjoying the magnolia trees with their glossy leaves. It is called Mockingbird, and the Dallas Dart train has a Mockingbird station. I would be very happy had Muskegon a light rail and a station called Grackle station. The Grackle has the mimic talent of the Mockingbird, but the Mockingbird can out-mock the Grackle. The Grackle can mock bird songs and human speech, but not as accurately as the Mockingbird.
I love that our Grackles feed in flocks on freshly cut lawns, really the only bird that flocks and feeds on lawns around here. The Robin flocks in trees at night and feeds on lawns separately, each Robin declaring territory. I love the glossy iridescent feathers of the Grackle males, which makes me believe that the Common Grackle has a special quality. However, Grackles are almost as common as House Sparrows. Grackles have a conservation status of Least Concern. The National Audubon Society counts them during the Christmas Bird Count. The Grackles stay for the winter in Michigan. The society counted 73 million Grackles, which is great. However, Grackles once numbered 190 million, the historical high. So we have a Grackle population four-tenths of the historical high. If the Grackles have a talent for living around humans, what species have been decimated more than sixty percent? At first, I think American Eagles. I also think of the Grayling, extirpated in Michigan but plentiful in Alaska.
Grackles love to eat seed scattered on the ground. Competing birds have to swallow fast because a Grackle is not above snatching a grain out of a beak. Grackles, like the ducks, will walk up to picnicking people and await bread and cracker crumbs, just like many species of ducks. I suppose Grackles will dine on ants marching out of the ant farm, but first, Grackles rub ants on their feathers. Almost 250 species of birds "ant", and the formic acid might act as an insecticide. Maybe it repels mosquitoes, and American Robins would do well to ant themselves to keep West Nile out of their veins.
As I write, I see questions popping up. How can the Grayling be almost a nuisance in the creeks of Alaska and be extirpated from Michigan? In Alaska, the Grayling out-competes the trout and prevents the trout from colonizing stretches of river. The Grayling is a shoal species, which is an advantage. However,  I must ask why. This essay is an exploration of nature and not a report upon nature. Do American Robins ant, and if so, why doesn't the formic acid protect them against mosquitoes?
I would love to see a world with 190 million Grackles again, where Grayling share the Muskegon River again with Brown and Rainbow Trout. I can see a world where we exalt in increases in the Christmas Bird Count the way we treasure a winning score in the Super Bowl for our home team.
Photography Credits
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) in a backyard in Toronto, Canada, 2005
11 July 2005
Male Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) - state of New York

7 August 2009
Author Dick Daniels

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