The iridescence is pretty, anyway

Here’s what I do. I sit in my office in front of my computer with a pile of textbooks open to my left, and sometimes I have committee meetings over Zoom, or meetings with students over Zoom, and my eyeballs are generally locked on the screen. But I also have a window to my right which looks out over the bird feeder in my yard, and I keep my camera close at hand, and sometimes some feathered beast distracts me for a bit.

Today was a grackle day. They were all over the place. I don’t like grackles much, but I do appreciate the shiny iridescence.

Also, the chickadees are challenging me. They flit in, I raise my camera, they immediately flit away. They are hyperactive little twits who won’t pause long enough for me to get a picture, even at 1/800th of a second. This is the best I’ve gotten so far, and look at it — it’s getting ready to take off barely after it’s landed. I think they’re doing touch-and-gos on the feeder.

At least they’re keeping me semi-sane.


  1. says

    My bird feeder is a source of daily entertainment (even the part where I chase off the squirrels), and tending it is a grounding routine.

  2. Don F says

    We have a small clear feeder mounted on the bedroom window and our chickadees flit in, grab a seed, then flit out to eat it. Our finches, on the other hand, land on the edge, grab a seed, and stand there to eat, dropping the hulls into the feeder. I’ve also noticed that if a chickadee is sitting in the feeder a finch even coming near will make the chickadee flee; it’s a pecking-order thing, I guess. ( It’s also very entertaining when the blue jays or cardinals land in the very-tiny-to-them feeder ;^)

  3. says

    What sort of seed do you use to attract birds? Especially the chickadees. I’m in the NE part of the state, so I should have similar birds to you, PZ. I’ve had a feeder out for about 2 weeks with thistle seed, but I haven’t seen any birds at it. I hear birds in the yard, but I haven’t seen any.

  4. says

    I don’t mind the Grackles, they’re pretty inoffensive. But, don’t get me started on the !$%#$^&@# European Starlings. Fucking winged rats will gobble up an entire suet cake inside of a single day.

    On the other hand, I have a pair of Carolina Wrens that have become regulars in my back yard and they are enjoyable to watch. They’re brave little birds and I can barely get out of the way fast enough when I go to put out a fresh handful of dried mealworms.

  5. davem says

    To freeze small birds like that, you need 1/2000th of a second. That freezes all but the trailing edge of their wings. By far the easiest is to have a camera that takes mulktiple exposures a secoind. Mine does 11/second ,and using that burst mode, I can usuaually get one or two decent shots. Aim at the feeder, press the shutter just bedore they land.

  6. Mark The Snark says

    Ah, yes, the camera detection instinct that birds have. Imma chill here for 30 minutes but if a camera points my way, poof! :-)

  7. tccc says

    I get a lot of gold and house finches, cardinals, blue jays, morning doves, turkeys and sand hill cranes at my feeders in SE Michigan. Even wood peckers of various types.

    I only feed shelled sunflower seeds as I do not like shell mess and I want to make sure there is no seed wastage on the ground to attract other animals. It is a bit expensive, but I buy it by the 50lb sack to help over come the costs.

  8. damarius says

    @Isilzha Mir
    I’m probably not too far from you, in Thunder Bay Ontario. Chickadees and nuthatches should be abundant in your area depending on local conditions, and they love black oil sunflower seeds. They will come to feeders all year round. The thistle seeds (nyger/nyjer seeds) will attract finches (goldfinches, purple finches, pine siskins) but not much else. We have goldfinches coming to our nyjer feeder right now, but they are itinerant and probably won’t be here much longer. The finches will also eat the sunflower seeds once they get used to them. However, squirrels will be very attracted to them if that is an issue for you.

  9. says

    Thanks for the advice, tccc and damarius. I’ll see if I can get some sunflower seeds to put out, too. I’ve seen the occasional cardinal and blue jay around. Hopefully they’ll come near the deck if I put some sunflower seeds out.

  10. brightmoon says

    This reminds me of when I was a kid . I’m in NYC in Queens. I used to see cardinals and blue jays but it’s too built up now . Since they started planting street trees I see black and white warblers, starlings,and grackles, along with New York attitude pigeons( they’ll dive bomb you on purpose) sparrows and seagulls

  11. birgerjohansson says

    “Grackle” is a good name. It sounds like evil supernatural entities.
    Myself, I am feeding the pigeons that hang around the hospital where I work. And I end up incidentally feeding tons of different corvids.

  12. says

    I love giving whole hazelnuts to pigeons on a concrete surface. Being close to spherical, they jump away when a pigeon pecks one. You end up with a bunch of pigeons chasing each nut: kind of like a bunch of preschoolers playing soccer.

  13. unclefrogy says

    I guess I live in an urban environment not the density of a big city but very close to one of biggest and busiest harbors in the US. Alas since all my dogs have died and cats have moved in the ally in numbers i do not see as many birds as I once have. The cats have severly reduced to mice and rat populations locally which is very nice they also now understand the the invasive eastern fox squirrel are made of meat as well. I do miss all the birds . One of te most intertaining and interesting things you can put out for birds is nest material. one of the best I have used was old worn out string mop heads the strings are rotting away and are just the thing to line nests with and with the advantage that it also attracts none seed eating birds as well. The industriousness of the birds gathering the stuff and their determination are fun to watch.
    uncle frogy

  14. robro says

    We’re blessed with a variety of birds and other wild life. In our backyard feeders: white crowned sparrow, golden crown sparrow, oak titmouse, dark-eyed junko, western quail, blue jay, scrub jay, Stellar jay, California towhee, spotted towhee, acorn woodpecker, house finch, mourning dove, sometimes ring neck doves, and lots of anna’s hummingbirds along with bees in the currently blooming Ohio Buckeye. We had a ruby-crowned kinglet once last year. Often mockingbirds hang out on the power polls out front going on and on and on. Vultures overhead. Visits from red-tailed hawks, other hawks, and kestrels now and then. Ravens and crows are around, but they rarely come into our yard.

    Plenty of wild turkeys but they are the bane of our neighborhood. You’re welcome to them if you want to come get them.

    My wife just put out the re-filled hummingbird feeder and they were practically dive bombing her…second time today she’s filled it. She counted six on one side of the buckeye.

    Besides the hummingbird feeder, we put out millet, safflower seeds (for the oak titmouse), and a seed mix with black oil seeds.

    We also have squirrels…red, gray, and black. Herds of deer in the open space fairly regularly. One or more coyotes sometimes passing by. Oh, and lizards and for PZ, a house with many spiders because my wife does what she can to protect them.

  15. VolcanoMan says

    Grackles are beautiful…I love everything about them, especially the way the light plays in their head-feathers, showing a rainbow of iridescent colours. I haven’t seen any yet this spring – clearly they haven’t migrated this far north yet. Soon enough though, their resplendent feathers and vibrant, sonorous squawks will be gracing my neighbourhood again. Can’t wait!

    I did see an American woodcock (well, that’s what it looks like anyway – I had a look through a bird atlas and the woodcock is the one that matches my photo) the other day though in my yard. Never noticed a bird like this before…I did a bit of research – we’re just inside their breeding range, so this one is an early arrival, probably regretting leaving the warm climes of the Gulf Coast so soon (it’s been unseasonably cold here). Imgur image below.

  16. vucodlak says

    In the next town over from my home town, there was a(n) (in)famous dive bar called The Purple Crackle. All the upright conservatives would flock to it in droves after the bars in the neighboring red state closed at a “respectable” hour. There was many a shooting/stabbing/brawl down at the ‘Crackle, not to mention a great deal of hootin’, hollerin’, and carryin’ on.

    What does this have to do with anything in this post? Well, it was actually originally meant to be named The Purple Grackle, but the sign maker, not being a bird person, had never heard of a grackle and assumed the bar owner meant “crackle.” Being a place to get hammered into the wee hours of the morning, buy lottery tickets, or get a fishing license, rather than a bird-watcher’s club, the name stuck.

    Alas, it’s a strip club now with the much less interesting name of “The Pink Pony.” It’s owned by a MAGAt who put cheap gargoyles on the fence posts at the end of drive out front of his ugly faux-plantation-manor-house. The four characterless, identical gargoyles don’t match the fence posts, and the posts aren’t part of any fence. Even for our broke-ass hick town it’s a complete void of class, grace, and style. I’m saying this as someone who lived across the road from a man who regularly hung the skinned carcasses of raccoons from the trees in his front yard, and one whose neighbors had a mattress on their roof.

    Anyway, that’s my grackle story.

  17. prairieslug says

    I noticed a lot of Grackles here today too, in Lyon County MN. I wish their voice was as nice as their plumage..

  18. says

    Also, the chickadees are challenging me. They flit in, I raise my camera, they immediately flit away.

    You’re doing it wrong. You raise the camera, put your finger on the shutter button, and freeze in place until the chickadee flits in. Hide behind a curtain if necessary. Don’t look away.
    You’ll still miss most of the shots, but at least the break lowers your blood pressure.

  19. magistramarla says

    I learned to hate grackles when we lived in Texas. They were loud and raucous. They congregated in large groups and pooped all over everything. They fought on our lawn. They chased away the smaller songbirds that I loved.
    Now we live in Monterey, Ca. and I really hate crows. I was watching a lovely bluebird searching for bugs and worms on my lawn when a crow dive-bombed, killed the bluebird and began eating it on my lawn.
    I know that all of these birds have their places in “the circle of life”, but I really don’t care for these opportunistic birds!

  20. says

    Oh, grackles
    They used to be one of Caine’s favourites and she posted many pretty pics of them. Thank you for the memory.

  21. Sakura No Seirei, Zoë, born into the purple says

    Tits (which are what they’re called in the UK for anybody wondering!) are incredibly difficult to photo. You need your feeder fairly close to where you want to photo, and you’re going to need to be there not doing anything threatening over a few days before they’ll stay long enough for you got get shots

    We have both coal and blue tits where I live and I’ve managed to get some okay photos of them on a cheap little Fuji camera, as well as photos of a woodpecker (a bird so nervous and wired to flee at the slightest movement it made the tits look chilled and calm)

    I’ll see if I can do a link thing (I probably won’t be able to but let’s see – update: It tooks some doing but figured out links, yay!)

    Coal Tit and Blue Tits

    Greater Spotted Woodpecker

  22. Bruce H says

    At work, the grackles rule the parking lot. I almost never see any other kind of bird other than the occasional crow, and a duck that likes to nest under a bush in the spring. Last year, a male grackle decided I was a threat to his nest in the bush near the spot where I park my car and he decided dive bombing me was a good strategy to get me to park elsewhere. He was wrong.

    I eventually convinced him to stop his aerial bombardments after much yelling and gesticulating.

  23. Jazzlet says

    Isilzha Mir
    Birds take a while to find a new source of food so you may just need to wait unil they’ve spotted it. Another thing that helps are having bushes nearby, we have queues of tits flitting around in the bushes waiting for their turn at the seed and suet balls, but they are English birds ;-)

  24. leerudolph says

    @13: ““Grackle” is a good name. It sounds like evil supernatural entities.” I had been in Austin several times before my last visit, but always near the university. On my last visit they put me up in a long-stay (well, medium-stay) motel in another part of town. As I crossed a bridge, shortly after sunset, a most ungodly racket began, and followed me along a tree(ish)-lined downtown street most of the way to the motel. After unpacking we walked back along our route (looking for a restaurant…) and saw that each tree had several dozen evil supernatural entitiesblack and white birds roosting in it; the next day we discovered that easily several hundred, maybe a thousand of the same things roosted under the bridge. GRACKLES. Austin is apparently famous for them.