Great-tailed grackles here to stay

I have observed an increase in numbers of robins, Eurasian collared doves, white-winged doves and Mississippi kites in our area.

No increase, however, matches that of great-tailed grackles (sometimes incorrectly called crackles).

Their long rudder-like tail is quite distinctive. Males are black, and the females are brownish.

Males are 18 inches long from tip of beak to tip of tail while females are slightly smaller.

Courtesy photo: Larry Brock

Great-tailed grackles prefer open areas with farmland, livestock, parks, and residential

areas. Their prime roosting sites are lighted areas with trees.

Great-tailed grackles have state and federal protection because some of them are migratory.

The grackle's debut was well received by local residents. Students and teachers enjoyed watching their courtship behavior on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University, individuals enjoyed them in the parks, and I welcomed the first grackles that nested in our yard.

Then, grackles became more numerous in yards, parks, residences, and elsewhere. Personnel from the Physical Plant at ENMU asked me to remove those large, noisy, black birds roosting by the hundreds in trees surrounding the administration building.

They feared the massive amounts of poop might be slippery and cause injury to students, personnel, and visitors.

I agreed to take a stab at it.

Our plan was to initiate a simultaneous barrage of firecracker explosions in trees around the building for two consecutive nights. We did that, and the trees were completely without birds on the third night.

A few years later, Portales personnel and I initiated a simultaneous bombardment in trees around the courthouse and adjacent areas. We did that in two different years. In each case, on the third or fourth night, the grackles were gone.

The sound of firecrackers displaced the great-tailed grackles from their roost sites of choice. The birds were not harmed in any way. They simply went elsewhere, away from the site of disturbance. Therefore, because grackles did not leave the community, roosting problems will continue.

Great-tailed grackles are here to stay, and they are increasing in numbers each year. They prefer open areas with farmland, livestock, parks, and residential areas. Their prime roosting sites are lighted areas with trees.

According to the Sibley Guide (2001), the great-tailed grackle is one of America's fastest expanding species, extending their range throughout the Southwest and Midwest. Early in the 20th century, this bird was rarely observed north of the US-Mexican border.

Methods of control are necessary. The uses of firearms and poisons, however, are not recommended. Hoisting five gallon buckets loaded with empty cans into trees by using ropes thrown over selected branches is recommended.

After dark, simply hoist the bucket high into the tree and slam the bucket against a branch several times to create a loud noise. Where firecrackers are legal, light the fuse of one, place it in a bucket, and hoist the bucket up into the tree.

Most effective is a pack of firecrackers with one fuse. The result of either solution is, "someone else gets the birds."

But, here is a word of caution:

If your neighbor has the birds and you don't — avoid recommending control measures.

Desert Biologist Tony Gennaro of Portales writes a monthly column on creatures of the Southwest. Contact him at:

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