Monday, March 5, 2018

Iridescent Cacophony

We're in the transition between winter and spring, when gregarious blackbird flocks continually descend on the feeders at the Northwood Center and the trees are full of metallic calls, guttural gurgles, and a variety of whistles. Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are one of the most common icterids in Cape May right now, along with Red-winged Blackbirds and a smaller number of Rusty Blackbirds.
"purple" Common Grackle perched above the Ryan De Witt Memorial Trail at the Northwood Center
Common Grackles come in three "flavors": purple, bronze and the southeastern subspecies colloquially refereed to as the "Florida Grackle" despite breeding from North Carolina to Louisiana. In Cape May we can get both the purple (Quiscalus quiscula stonei ; Chapman, 1935; Named for Dr. Witmer Stone, author of Bird Studies at Old Cape May - thanks to Scott McConnell for pointing this out!) and the bronze (Q. q. versicolor ; Vieillot, 1819) subspecies, as the bronze is most migratory and passes over the range of both the purple and "Florida" subspecies. Currently the flock behind Northwood has been dominated by the purple subspecies which breed south of Southeast New York, and east of the Appalachians down to Alabama and central Louisiana. Keep an eye out, though, as the bronze birds continue to pass through on their return migration and get mixed up in these big blackbird flocks over the next few weeks!
"purple" Common Grackle at the Northwood feeder

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