May 16 2012
If you think peregrine falcons are the only birds who fight, think again.
On May 6 at Magee Marsh I witnessed a vicious fight between two common grackles on the deck below the bird feeders at the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center. They were the only birds on the deck. Everyone else had fled. And no wonder!
Grackles are powerful, muscular songbirds armed with long, strong beaks. In this battle, beaks were their weapon of choice. At the time, I was too stunned to use my cellphone camera so I’ll have to describe the fight in words. To make it easier to understand I’ll label the combatants Jack and Joe.
When I first noticed them the birds were locked in combat. Joe had grabbed Jack by the leg. Then Jack got a hold of Joe’s beak and held on tight. They shifted and fluttered and Jack somehow used his leverage to flip Joe on his back. Both had their wings open as Jack pinned Joe to the deck for at least 30 seconds. Ow! Another shift and flutter and Jack grabbed Joe by his neck. Joe tried to take the offensive but Jack was clearly winning.
I felt bad for Joe except… this fight was keeping them from harming other birds. Nesting songbirds, from warblers to robins, are well aware of the grackles’ danger because grackles raid their nests and eat their eggs and chicks. All the songbirds can do is scream, ineffectually try to hit the grackles, and watch in horror. Perhaps this fight was weakening one of their enemies.
In the end Jack won and Joe escaped, much the worse for wear. He was knocked down and nearly dragged out.
(photo of a common grackle by Steve Gosser)