This year is different.
We usually don’t see huge flocks of grackles in Pittsburgh until late October but this year they showed up in the third week of September. I first noticed them in large groups in Schenley Park, gathering in the treetops at dusk. Since then they’re most noticable on rainy days when they graze on neighborhood lawns and fly low over the road.
Common grackles are diurnal migrants who tend to move in mixed flocks with blackbirds and starlings. Within the flocks you can pick out the grackles because they have long tails and make a low “chuck” sound as they fly. Though I’ve looked for other birds among them, the recent flocks are nearly 100% grackles. When they gather at dusk their “rusty gate” voices are very loud. Then they take off in unison – an impressive sight.
I wonder why the grackles are early this year. Is there less food up north than usual? Is winter coming early? Do they know something we don’t know? Probably.
(photo of a flock of brown-headed cowbirds by Chuck Tague. Are there any grackles mixed in? Look at their tails.)