Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The enigma of winter Boat-tailed Grackles

Today at the Wal Mart parking lot in Harahan, I found myself parking at the way on the edge of the parking area, beneath a row of small live oaks bordering Jefferson Highway.

The trees were filled with male Boat-tailed Grackles, loudly issuing their rasping and chanting calls.  There were eleven in the trees in the space of the five parking slots surrounding my car, and more down the way.

They do this every winter.  They abandon the parking area in spring and summer when they nest, and return in flocks in winter, mixed males and females- sometimes 70 or more at this particular parking lot.  They hang out until near sundown, and then fly off to roost at some unknown location.

The question is, why are they advertising themselves, and why so vigorously?

Generally, this sort of loud posturing is associated with one (or both) of two purposes:  attracting a mate, and advertising a territory.

They are not close enough to nesting season to be attracting mates, at least so I would think.

They are not defending any territories in the parking lot- all the birds appear to mill and mix freely among the cars as they search for food.

So what could possibly make it worth their while to expend so much time and energy advertising themselves? Surely there must also be some risk involved, not just wasted energy- plenty of Cooper's Hawks in the area.
Such a familiar site- at Wal Mart every time I go- yet so puzzling.


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at birding.made.easy.new.orleans@gmail.com, or look for it at area book stores.  It is now available at
Uptown:  Garden District Book Shop, Maple Street Book Shop, Octavia Books
French Quarter and Marigny:  Peach Records, Fauborg Marigny Art Books Music, Librairie Book Shop, Beckham's Bookshop, Arcadian Books and Prints, the Crabnet
Mid City:  City Park Botanical Garden, Community Book Center


  1. Hi Peter,
    Just bought the last copy of your book today at Octavia Books and I'm loving it. It's a great guide for a beginner birder.
    I took some friends on a "casual" birding walk today at Coturie Arboretum in City Park and we spotted what appeared to be several robins. I've only been seriously trying to identify birds since about June this year but this is the first time I've seen them. I thought they were just a spring bird. Is this normal?

    1. Jody-

      Glad you like the book!

      American Robins are primarily winter visitors to New Orleans. Their reputation as harbingers of spring comes from more northerly climes, where they leave for the winter and return in March.

      Some actually do summer in City Park, south of I-610 especially- their nesting stronghold in the area- but the ones you saw in Couturie were most likely migrants here for the winter.