The buzz

Things we love: Those exquisite common grackles

A common grackle perched on a fence
A common grackle. (Photo via Shutterstock)

About this series: While many people love nature, different people love different aspects of it. One may have a soft spot for flowers, while another gravitates toward a particular animal. And yet for others, it's all about the scenery. "Things We Love" explores those jaw-dropping parts of nature that one person finds particularly special. In this edition, Jess McQuown, an interpretive naturalist at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, tells us why she loves common grackles.

It’s true what they say, you know. Everyone looks good in black. The common grackle is no exception. In fact, it looks exceptional in black. And when the light hits it just right, it practically glows from the iridescence. But I don’t just love the way the grackle looks. I love that the grackle can elicit feelings of joy, fear and inspiration.

To me, the sound of a grackle is romantic and airy. When they sing in early spring, their voices are reminiscent of a rusty gate opening at long last, much like the gate in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” opened after years of solitude, still bursting with life waiting to be explored. One can almost hear the laughter of rosy-cheeked children exploring the flowers, breathing in the cool air of springtime and being nursed back to health by digging in the dirt. Grackles ring in the return of life to our own gardens and life with dirt under our fingernails.

It might be easy to overlook these birds as just another blackbird, lumped in with starlings, red-winged blackbirds and crows. In the light, however, they shimmer with the purples and greens of a comic book villain. Add in their incredibly sharp bills and piercing yellow eyes, and there is no denying that these fierce birds are capable predators (of insects in the summertime) and a descendant of the dinosaurs. When you watch them at a feeder, you get a very clear feeling that they are watching you back, only with millions of years of knowledge.

One of the best things about grackles is that you don’t have to go far to find them. You are equally as likely to hear them while walking through your neighborhood, high up in the trees, as you are at a meadow’s edge, foraging in the grass. If you watch them singing from the highest reaches of the trees, they puff up all their feathers, as if giving it everything they’ve got for all the world to see and hear. It’s easy to find inspiration in a creature that puts it all out in the open like that. We should be so bold!

The common grackle may be just that — common — but that doesn’t mean it is ordinary. Just a song can bring back the memories of childhood stories. Just a glance of this fiercely beautiful bird reminds me of our own evolutionary past. Just watching a moment of them singing their song inspires me to stand a little taller, feel a little more and be a little better version of myself. I may not have as grand a stage, but I am reminded that I am allowed to be equally loving and fierce, all thanks to the common grackle.

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