In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d talk a little bit about birds that are black, some of which are blackbirds and some of which are not. The first one I’ll mention is the Great-tailed Grackle. If you’ve been to any shopping center in the area, you’ve seen a Great-tailed Grackle. These are the birds that walk around the parking lot picking up bits of food. The males are all black, the females rich brown and both sexes have very long keel-shaped tails. They are quite fond of picking the insects off the grill of your car and will hop up off the ground to do so.
(Great-tailed Grackle showing the keeled tail. Photo by Greg Lavaty.)
Currently, this species ranges from Louisiana west to California, south through Central America and north to Colorado and Kansas, but in the early 1900’s their range barely extended into southern Texas. They have taken advantage of human induced changes like irrigated agriculture and urban development and now have one of fastest expanding ranges in North America. They do not migrate so they are with us year round. In the winter, they congregate into huge roosting flocks that are quite noisy and can become a nuisance. If you’ve been to Florida, you may have seen the very similar looking Boat-tailed Grackle taking over the parking lot monitor job. Boat-tailed Grackles range through all the Gulf States including Texas, but they are confined to the salt marshes of the immediate coast except in Florida.
Another black bird we have is not a blackbird at all and that is the crow. They are much heavier bodied than the grackles but because of the grackle’s long tail, they are about the same length. Crows also have a much heavier bill. Here in Brazoria County we only have American Crows but in east Texas there are also Fish Crows. The American Crow makes the typical caw-caw-caw sound we all associate with crows. Fish Crows make a more nasal anh-anh kind of sound. Crows will seldom be found walking around in a parking lot so you don’t have to worry much about confusing them with the grackles in that location.
( American Crow by Greg Lavaty.)
In the winter, which is now if you are a bird, we have a couple of other all black birds. One is the Common Grackle. This is the species of grackle most likely to raid your bird feeder along with the Red-winged Blackbirds. They are a bit smaller than the Great-tailed Grackle and don’t have the keeled tail. They look more like the Red-winged Blackbird that they associate with than the Great-tailed Grackle but they don’t have the red marks on their shoulders. As with the crow, they won’t be found walking around a parking lot so don’t look for them there.
(Common Grackles with a Common Gallinule. Photo by Greg Lavaty.)
The final black bird that I’ll mention is the Brewer’s Blackbird. This species is also in our area only during winter. Their favorite hangout is in the muddy areas of a cow pasture especially around the feed bins where they pick up left over grain. This is a really gorgeous bird. The males are glossy greenish bluish black and the females are a gentle shade of gray. They are quite common further west and south but you have to look a bit to find them in Brazoria County. If you’re interested, try the intersection of FM 2004 and SH 36. They like it there for some reason.
(Brewer’s Blackbird by Greg Lavaty.)
So now you know when someone talks about blackbirds, you have to ask if they mean black birds or blackbirds!
By Susan Heath