Of all backyard bird sounds, perhaps the least musical is the song of the Common Grackle, a blackbird recognized by its long tail and iridescent plumage. The male’s song, given as he leans forward, puffs out his feathers, and cocks his wings, sounds like a raspy squeak. Groups of courting males often gather in evergreens or other trees, with males performing their song-spread displays in front of eager females (females sing less frequently and usually in response to the song of the mate).
In 1907, naturalist Clarence Hawkes described such a group: “I heard a great commotion in an old elm near the house. It was not a song, although there were many voices, but the noisiest medley of squeaks, squawks, pipes, whistles, and other sounds too queer to name.” To commemorate his experiences, Hawkes penned a wonderful little poem:
Of course, Mr. Hawkes was wrong on one count — those pipes and squawks definitely comprise the song of the species and are quite likely very appealing to their avian ears. Check out the following recording that I made way back in 1990, featuring small group of grackles excitedly singing. It’s “music” to my ears, but I admit that I’m tuned differently than most people:
Common Grackles in a tree, giving song-spread displays. 16 April, 1990, Connecticut Hill WMA near Ithaca, NY. © Lang Elliott.
p.s. The video footage was gathered almost exactly a year ago, at the nearby Cornell Plantations Arboretum. It was breezy and noisy with traffic, so I had to lip-synch in post, using recordings I made many years ago, set against an appropriate local ambient soundscape. Works pretty good, doesn’t it? Producing great videos of singing birds often requires synching-in the sound in post (in the studio). It would be great if I could always get excellent recordings right when the videos are made, but that requires perfect weather, perfect location, no interfering loud nature sounds, and last but not least … a talented field recordist assistant!