Our bird feeders at The Frog & PenguINN are not filled as often as before — the very Unwelcome Visitors (UV) are back in town.
That’s because around this time of year there’s nothing in the surrounding fields to feed on, so backyard feeders become very attractive and attract large groups of UVs in the form of grackles, starlings and cowbirds.The most dominant group are the Common Grackles, which are blackbirds that look like they've been stretched out. They're taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird, with a longer, more tapered bill and glossy-iridescent bodies. Grackles walk around lawns and fields on long legs or gather in (extremely noisy groups high in trees, typically evergreens. Common Grackles are resourceful foragers and will usually follow plows to catch anything churned up in the fields. While they eat many crops, grackles are the primary threat to corn fields; they eat ripening corn as well as corn sprouts, and their habit of foraging in big flocks means they have a multi-million dollar impact. Even though they are way too oversized to fit into the tubular bird feeders, they grasp on the edges and shake out the seeds. As annoying and unattractive as these “takeovers” can be, there is always a show provided.
For example, grackles are always looking up, but not at other birds. Curious about this behavior, I checked online to learn that they tilt their heads back and bills up to show who's boss. It's a dominance display and ornithologists have given not one but three names to this trait: the Bill Tilt, Bill Up, and Head Held Up Threat.. Males typically tilt their bills up when another male approaches, and after one bird tilts the longest and highest, the other bird will either leave or back down. Grackles of the opposite sex will also give the display to each other early in the breeding season before they find a mate, but paired birds never perform the display to one another.
In 1963, Robert W. Ficken of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology described grackle behavior: “The Head Held Up threat, with its many variable components, presumably signals rather precisely the varying degrees of readiness to attack or escape," he wrote. "Such precision of expression would serve to reduce fighting, stress, and time wastage in a species where there is much close contact among individuals.”
Yesterday, this grackle seemed to be showing off his physique to a less than interested audience.Once the weather starts to warm up (there were snow flurries all day) and the fields begin to dry out and get turned, then these UV will (hopefully) move on. And, if it wasn’t for the fact that we DO get a lot of VERY Welcome Visitors — cardinals, blue jays, sparrows, juncos, chickadees and other songbirds — the feeders would remain empty from about March to May.
And, where is that Sharp-Shinned Hawk that was hanging around a few weeks ago? It seems that these UVs are unattractive to other UVs, including a predator cause it’s been nowhere in sight lately.
Now, about that neighborhood alley cat that was hanging around last week. “here kitty, kitty . . .”