Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

May 23, 2010

Public Enemy: Great-tailed Grackle

Filed under: behavior, Birds, ethics — richditch @ 4:29 pm
Public Enemy: Great-tailed Grackle

Public Enemy: Great-tailed Grackle

Great-tailed Grackles, like this female from the Gilbert Water Ranch, are in increasing species in central Arizona. I’ve tried to be tolerant of them: they are a native species and their behavior is what evolution has determined works best for them. I’v e even taken some photos of them that I like a lot (examples #1, #2, and #3).

But they are very aggressive birds, and their size makes them a threat to lizards and other birds. We have suspected them of decimating families of Gambel’s Quail in our back yard in the past – the puffball chicks that explode around successful adults are difficult for the parents to manage and prime targets from marauding grackles. We’ve seen grackles take keen interest in the shrubs where the quail hide for safety, but haven’t yet seen them capture any chicks.

Well, abut an hour ago I saw something very close. I’d just driven out to run errands and was about 1/4 mile from the house when I saw a grackle in flight behind a small brown bird. The grackle was obviously chasing the presumed sparrow. I stopped and made a U-turn and headed back to see if the sparrow had gotten away.  It had not – the grackle crossed the road carrying the sparrow by the tail, with a second grackle following close behind. Another U-turn and I could stop near the grackles on the ground. One took a few quick steps before flying back across the street into someone’s yard, still carrying the sparrow.

I know this nature in action, and I’ve seen Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks take many Mourning Doves from our back yard here in AZ and from our former back yard in NJ. Somehow those moments of nature are less troubling. I know it doesn’t make any sense,  but that’s just the way I feel at the moment.

The image without the red X can be viewed on my web site, along with the shooting data for this image.



  1. That was pretty funny. Interesting how we birds tend to dislike certain birds. When I lived in AZ I always thought of GT Grackles as garbage birds, but now that I am in Idaho, it is a special treat when one shows up. I have started taking a liking to birds like Brown-headed Cowbirds. I chose to admire their evolutionary genius in allowing other birds to expend energy raising their young, rather than despising them for their parasitic nature. 😉

    Comment by Idaho_Birder — May 23, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  2. Hi Rich,

    I, too, have had them kill sparrows in my back yard. We have a fountain in the back yard and I came home one day to find the carcass of a baby sparrow on one level of the fountain. I couldn’t figure it out – how did it get there? The Coopers & Sharp-Shinneds alway eat on the concrete wall. The next day, I saw a great big male grackle attack and kill one on the ground and proceed to bring it to the fountain to dine on it. I was also furious and saddened – even though I know it’s nature’s way…

    Comment by Robin McEntire — May 23, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  3. I love little baby quail and hate to hear stories like that. I watch the killdeer at my local lake which is flooded with great-tails. I’ve personally seen the grackles try and steal the food right out of a killdeer’s mouth, but I think the killdeer fought back and I haven’t seen anything else happen with him (or any of the other birds) since.

    The killdeer in question has just bred and I feared that his little puff ball babies would be in great danger as there’s grackles all over his territory. But, this killdeer seems to be pretty smart, so far. I think he has a separate breeding area from where he feeds and I think it’s in an area with fewer grackles. I just hope he doesn’t bring his chicks out to where these birds are.

    The almost all the grackles congregate on one particular area of the lake where people picnic and feed the ducks and geese. They’re also in a few other areas, but not as much. They love the food that people feed the waterfowl and birds and that’s why they’ve congregated there.

    Comment by Darlene — June 15, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

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