Cochise County Birds: The Great-tailed Grackle


Fair warning:  I’m guessing the grackles we have in Cochise County–at least in certain areas–are great-tailed grackles or Mexican grackles  (Quiscalus Mexicanus).  There are ten species of grackles, and to anyone but a serious bird watcher or dyed in the wool naturalist, once you’ve seen one grackle, you’ve seen them all.

Wonder if that might be where the word came from?  Two dudes sitting around one day some centuries back, listening to the ear-grating sound of these honestly ugly birds:  “Grack!  Grack!  Grack!”

Hey, that’s what these fliers sound like to me!

Not that I have anything against any bird, but if they had a Least Popular Bird contest, the grackle (great-tailed or otherwise) would have my vote.  We see them everywhere there are human handouts to be had.  Especially at the Cochise County Refuse Transfer Station near Sierra Vista.

At  least they’re not cuckoos.  They do raise their own hatchlings.  That counts for something.

One great puzzlement:  On every grackle page out there, we see photos (or sometimes paintings) of slick-feathered grackles, common or great-tailed, with never a plume out of place.  Yet the grackles that hang out in the Walmart parking lot with the pigeons look like they just lost a pillow fight or are in permanent molt or something.

‘Nuff talk.  Time for a snapshot of one of these oversized, lanky blackbirds (which is apparently what they are) in action.

Adult male great-tailed grackle in the Walmart parking lot.

Juvenile grackle in the Walmart parking lot, just a-strutting along.

Curiously enough, the grackle population outside of Walmart, at the Cochise County Refuse Transfer Station, and in the Home Depot parking lot are all unique to each specific location.

The scruffiest looking critters hang at Walmart, sometimes with the pigeons.

Wait, that reminds me.  Got one photo–quite by chance–which shows a young grackle in the company of a passel of pigeons…and two of the pigeons, pecking on the ground, just happen to have their butts pointed straight at the camera.

Young grackle hanging with the pigeons at Walmart, ignoring the pigeon butts flashing on the left.

While we’re on the subject of pigeons, there was one other really cool photo.  The grackle is paying no attention to anything but the partially eaten apple on the ground, but the pigeon is totally checking me out.

The young grackle checks out the apple, but the curious pigeon checks out the photographer in the cowboy hat.

The above photos were taken yesterday, but it felt like a few more would be helpful before starting a great-tailed grackle page.

Not to worry.  This morning, the GMC pickup was begging to go to the Refuse Transfer Station.  The topper was stuffed end to end with bags of household trash and really needed to empty out.

Turns out the grackles flock around that place like crazy.  Where there’s trash, there are grackles.

Grackle:  One to go for the easy pickin’s.

Didn’t see any pigeons out thataway.

Grackle flock at the refuse transfer station.

Besides the landfill material being dropped off at that location, the grackle flock had a great little mini-pond, courtesy of the latest monsoon rains.  Fresh water and trash by the truckload; what more could a plague of grackles want?

Plague?  Yes, that’s really what a bunch of grackles is called.  A murder of crows, a plague of grackles…whoever made up these labels must have been enjoying himself immensely when he did it.

Fresh water for the plague of grackles.

With an empty truck bed and room to load building supplies, it was off to Home Depot…where the grackle I photographed appeared to be an entirely different species.  Definitely a grackle, but the tail was proportionately shorter than any of the others I’d seen.

This one was a classy dude in his own right, though.  He had good taste.  Chose to hang out under the truck as soon as I got it parked.

Grackle in the Home Depot parking lot, taking cover under the back end of my truck.


Checking things out.


Man, I don’t want to go out there–looks dangerous!

Writing this page and working with the photos got me better acquainted with our local Cochise County grackles, both the great-tailed versions and whatever species the truck-loving guy at Home Depot may be.  As a result, they no longer look nearly as scruffy and/or downright ugly as they once did.

It’s like that every time.  Familiarity breeds respect.  Which is the opposite of the old “familiarity breeds contempt” maxim, but no less true…at least for me.

Still, I’m not about to complain about the fact that we never see grackles of any sort out here on our semi-wilderness property a mile north of the Mexican border.  This country is too rough for their taste; they prefer the easy life that goes with large numbers of humans living, shopping, and depositing trash in relatively confined spaces.

You know, sort of like certain humans feel about food stamps.

One thought on “Cochise County Birds: The Great-tailed Grackle

  1. Yeah, that’s a bit of a mystery. Suppose it’d be great for a series of Walmart jokes, though….

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