What do birds and wrestling have in common?
Nothing, actually, unless the birds happen to be great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus). These boisterous blackbirds occupy the trees around the lake and clubhouse parking lot from spring through fall. If your timing is right, you just might witness a wrestling match between two competing males.
I came across an avian “lucha libre” this past spring. At first I thought it was a mating ritual, a rough one for sure. On closer look, I realized it was two males rolling on the ground, screeching up a storm, beaks and wings, tails and talons in each others face until, ultimately, one bird lay motionless in submission to a stronger foe. It was quite extraordinary to watch.
Of all the birds that reside in YLP, the one species that grabs the brass ring for elegance has to be the great-tailed grackle. The male sports a glossy, black and purple sheen.
And the tail!. What a magnificent tail he has, one almost as long as the bird’s whole body. The tail may resemble a boat keel creating drag as the bird, flapping its wings, moves slowly through the air. The tail may also be spread open like a fan, or folded into a V shape.
On the ground, males strut their stuff like they are king of the mountain. They move boldly on long legs, their tail swooshing from side to side as if ready to swat anyone silly enough to approach.
Yellow eyes framed in jet black give a fierce look of determination. A bill raised towards the sky is a posture designed to intimidate other males.
As brash as they may appear, however, great-tailed can be pretty skittish. if you stare at them too long, or come too close, their courage evaporates like the mist and they go airborne into the cover of the trees.
Great-tailed grackles forage mostly for plant material; being omnivores, however, they won’t pass up a fish or a frog, lizard or mouse whenever the meal presents itself.
Originally native to Central and South America, since the early 1900s great-tailed grackles have moved rapidly northward into parts of the West, Southwest, and Great Plains. By following human alteration of the landscape, they now flourish in both agricultural and urban developments (lawns, parks, golf courses) where water is available.
Great-tailed grackles are highly social birds. In south Texas, along the Rio Grande valley, tens of thousands may assemble in winter roost trees. Oh my, what a clattering clammer of clacks, cackles, shrieks and whistles an assemblage of several thousand individuals must make.
Click below to hear the vocalizations that just a few individuals produce:
As you gather your family around the barbecue this weekend, while wearing masks and social distancing 6 feet apart, arm yourselves with party noisemakers, a bugle and a piccolo or two, drumsticks and a few kazoos. Join great-tailed grackles in raising a festive commotion to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our nation.
Happy Fourth of July, 2020
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Robert Groos is a published photographer and keen observer of nature who lives in Yosemite Lakes Park. He shares some of his outstanding images of our local feathered friends along with some tidbits of interesting facts about each. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
What’s good for the goose
It’s nesting time
Wild turkeys on parade
The Pied-Billed Grebe
Hunchback of YLP: The black-crowned night heron
The secret world of the phainopepla
The turkey vulture