The gift of bird watching: The common grackle

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Imagine being in your yard, enjoying the first warm days of spring, when a swarm of raucous voices pours in from the sky like a school bus full of unsupervised middle school students. They shout simultaneously back and forth on tree branches, drowning the solitude with harsh scolding.

Then, just as quickly as they arrived, they vanish in a whoosh of wings.

The common grackle gets a bad reputation because of its entrance and voice, but they are surprisingly beautiful. Huge flocks of “blackbirds” show up in Iowa this time of year, but if you look closely, there are actually six or seven different kinds.

The common grackle is significantly larger — by two or three inches — than the others, and in the right light they have stunning iridescent green, purple and blue feathers. With even closer observation, you can see the wing and tail feathers have distinctive light and dark black banding.

If you are lucky, you might even witness the males doing the bill-up display!

Mike Havlik is a naturalist in the Dallas County Conservation Department.

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