Crackling Gracklings and Yellow Billed Starlings

I find it hard to identify some birds when you don’t see them all that often. Grackles and starlings show up in Spring to get their fill on the lawn grubs. Lucky for my roses I might add. So they fly in flocks, gobble up as much as possible, then off they go, not to be seen the rest of the season. Unless of course you grow a large evergreen to their liking and have tasty suet out for dinner for the woodpeckers.

Apparently my Spartan Juniper proved a great place to raise a family for one of them. No photos of the little darlings in the nest as the juniper is over twenty feet tall and of course the top is where the babies reside, safely hidden inside. This is the hole they made in my juniper to access the nest, which is completely camouflaged.

But mom and dad were great parents as far as their species dictates. Run off anything that moves and render sightless those that do not heed the warning. Grackle mom and dad perch and watch over the nest in the juniper, ready for the attack, yellow eyes fixated both north and south.

Gilbert and friends no longer visit my yard, at least until the interlopers move on. I counted four babies for the busy mom below. I believe this is a Starling, because of the yellow beak, speckles and short body. They are cavity nesters and I have no idea where the nest was located. Hopefully not my dryer vent or chimney flue.

Here the mother has just about enough of the little ones.

Her problem now is trying to get rid of them. And of course, they don’t leave.

The babies are bigger than the mom. It is almost like she is the one that got duped with little imposters. This is something these birds are notorious for, pushing out babies of songbirds and dropping in an egg of their own, or just commandeer the nest of a woodpecker for themselves.

They are like glue on sandpaper with their constant hounding. I now feel a little sorry for her as they peck at her constantly and perch on her head.

One of the young has a broken leg in the image below. I bet this is how it happened. It may have gotten caught up in the chain.

Here it is calling for Mom, dangling the broken leg.

The wings still work, just landing is faulty. The babies are quite the pains in the neck.

She goes through a suet square daily and I am doing my best to keep her well nourished. Her fat offspring make her look like a malnourished supermodel.

Here are three of the four waiting for mom to return.

So let’s look at why they are in my yard and not out hunting grubs. My guess is my yard is grub free because of them never leaving. They do have it made with a nice bird bath at the base of the juniper. Here the wet bird is eating shucked sunflower and safflower seed out of a clay saucer. Only the best seed for the growing family… actually the bluejay, woodpecker and cardinal families.

I do know to get rid of them is to stop feeding, but then I lose the goldfinch, blue jay, woodpeckers, and cardinals. Hum… the dilemma.

A Grackle is a common blackbird that has a glossy iridescent, long, slender body. They do a lot of walking on long legs in search of insects and just about anything they can find including garbage.

They relish corn and any other crops. So my open compost bins provided a fresh feast with food diced up to Grackle sized potions.

Starlings are chunkier birds and have long slender yellow beaks and black eyes. Some, depending on breeding, age and the season have black beaks. Summertime is yellow beak time but they may still retain their lightly spotted look. They also have short tails. No where could I find where a Grackle’s beak changes from black to yellow. There are yellow beaked blackbirds, but I could not find one with spots. So my ID conundrum.

Grackles gather in high evergreens and I have arborvitae and a concolor which seems to attract them also. Grackles have a bill longer than most blackbirds and their head is flat. They are very smart and often very malicious to other young birds, killing them for sport. And if you want to know what they actually do, gruesome as it is, go to this site for a chilling description. Made me think twice on them in my yard, although I have only seen them attack the squirrels.  They have that golden eye which really gives them a menacing look and if one wants you away, the evil eye zeros in.

I have had a brown headed cow bird, red-winged blackbirds, crows and a Brewer’s Blackbird here too. Considering that the Grackles and Starlings are running off mammals, they don’t seem to be chasing off the birds.

Both blackbirds have been feeding right alongside sparrows and finches. They let the blue jays and cardinals ground feed and visit the bird bath. Here is a young jay, reared in the Mulberry behind my house, is having a drink.

These grackles are noisy with that raucous chatter. The starlings are quite boisterous and loud. Starlings travel with blackbirds and Grackles in groups, so the groups chatter is really annoying because they all have different calls. Kinda like a loud, intense argument at the UN.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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16 Responses to Crackling Gracklings and Yellow Billed Starlings

  1. Barbie says:

    Thank you for a lovely and funny commentary on the starlings – we also have these common birds all over the area. I dare not put out a bird feeder because they are pesky as they take over and scare all the smaller birds. Noisy bunch they are!!

  2. Lona says:

    A mothers work is never done. LOL! Great shots. Grackles always have the meanest looking eyes though. LOL!

  3. Donna says:

    Great shots and I love your descriptions…they can be so annoying, but we don’t get too many of either kind in the garden…I am seeing a more diverse group of birds these days which is nice. I still cannot put out feeders….they would eat me out of house and home!!

  4. TufaGirl says:

    Just to let you know, most of the grackles are here in Texas making their noisy selves heard all 12 months of the year. Usually run them off by shooting a bb gun in the air – not at them, although….

    It has only been in the last couple years I had really noticed the starlings. The one thing that caught my attention with the starlings is their ability to nest in anything that has a hole in it. The neighbor’s had lost a plug in their roof overhang and it has become the favored nesting place for 2 years now. I have also seen them nesting in a hole in a traffic light pole, and had run the sparrows out of a purple martin house at my old job. I have no love for the grackles but at least the starlings are a bit quieter.

  5. Your garden is like ornithology park Donna. Very funny narrative interspersed with such great info. The wet starling is a gorgeous image and the bird family reminds me of when my three were young and I weighed under 105 pounds. A suet diet since has rather changed things

  6. One says:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your post. You do have some clear, wonderful and interesting captures. Poor Mom being bullied by the young ones!

    Sometimes these starlings don’t make it. Only the strong would survive. I found some dead ones before.

  7. Jess says:

    We get the grackles passing through here in Feb/March area and they are some of the very aggressive birdie baddies. The year before my old kitty Juno died, they were literally trying to peck her to death. Poor thing. Them and the Blue Jays. I’ve seen some of the size me up seriously thinking about trying their luck. They also are vicious to the other little nice birds I have around.

  8. tina says:

    I so love this post and the pictures to illustrate the marvel you get to experience each day by observing these birds. It’s an amazing sight that you have shared with us! The birds are all beautiful and I can really see the difference between the grackles and starlings. So wonderful. I sure hope those babies move on soon!

  9. Aimee says:

    Wow – what great information and photos! We have many raucous starlings in our yard, but no grackles – and after reading your post, I’m grateful for that! I can’t believe how those baby birds are ganging up on their mom! I sympathize with you and your dilemmas…if you stop feeding them, you’ll lose the company of the birds you do want!

    Good luck and thanks for sharing this great post.

  10. debsgarden says:

    Interesting post! Somehow I am reminded of my oldest (unmarried, age 30) son who still brings his laundry for me to do. I could stop it, but I don’t.

  11. b-a-g says:

    The pigeons in my garden seem quite docile in comparison. I like the first photo especially of the over-size kid having a tantrum while the mum ignores his bad behaviour. I’m surprised that you get any blogging done with all of that going on outside.

  12. You are so observant it amazes me. I don’t know which I enjoyed more the photos or the commentary. Great post.

  13. Great captures of all the birds! Poor young one with the broken leg–those kinds of situations are hard for me to watch. I hope it heals. I love the iridescent feathers. Thanks for sharing this fun post!

  14. Garden Sense says:

    Looks like you have lots going on! What fun. Birds add so much life to a yard!

  15. Kala says:

    Wonderful series of image. I love the last photo of the blue jay. We lost many of ours years ago to the West Nile virus and I haven’t seen the population rebuild much since then.

  16. Fabulous photos Donna, I just wish the European Starlings weren’t so damaging to other native bird species. They were native where I grew up, but here they’re a real problem, and believed to have contributed to the decline of a number native cavity-dwelling bird species. I must admit though, they make for great pictures 😉

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