Eager for my morning coffee and breakfast, I am walking toward the Coffee Mug when I am assailed by a horrible cacophony of bird calls. These are not sweet chirpings or trills but loud shrieks, high pitched whistles and rattles. The noise comes from a tree across the street, where several large, black birds perch in its branches.
Trying to describe the calls of the great-tailed grackles is hard so I will resort to the professionals. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s web page says it best. They describe grackle calls as “calls so loud they were best heard at a distance.” Also, “rusty gate hinge” and “machinery badly in need of lubrication.”
Great-tailed grackles like to be around people. Places like the downtown Elko parking corridor, the Walmart and McDonald’s parking lots, and area feedlots all offer great habitat for these black birds, especially during winter.
Looking at a range map for the great-tailed grackle shows they live throughout Central America, Mexico and the southwestern United States. At the very northern end of their range is a swipe of summer habitat along the Humboldt River and a dot of winter range located precisely on Elko.
Other black birds live around Elko, but none have anything approaching the size of the tail of the male great-tailed grackle. It fans out and folds upward along its edges, into a boat keel shape. A close relative along the eastern coast is named the boat-tailed grackle. The male also has a bright, yellow eye while female grackles are brown with lighter bellies.
Yellow-headed blackbirds have a call like a rusty gate but they are put to shame by the ear-splitting noise put out by grackles.
Grackles usually feed on the ground and they are omnivorous, eating insects and plant material. This makes parking lots strewn with human food waste prime winter range.
It would be nice if the Coffee Mug waitresses would periodically walk outside and chase off the grackles, so my early morning approach to the restaurant could be in peace and quiet. I bet they would do it, although I am not going to ask them.