Archived Story

The common grackle eats like a bird — voraciously

Published 8:54am Sunday, May 5, 2013

Column: Natures World, by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask

“Everything is nearly copacetic. Yesterday was a day of nothing whittled down to a fine point. I’d hoped some NFL team would take a gamble and draft me in the last round. But, no! I’ll never get over that. If you heard a bird scream one day last week, I know why. I had a bird poop on the windshield of my car and the splat was a big as a hubcap. That had to hurt. Today, I’m busier than jumper cables at one of my family’s Christmas parties. Remember when we all turned 8 and Weasel had a surprise birthday party. He’d always wanted a surprise party, so he didn’t tell his parents. They were surprised. Weasel always gets the best of me. After I shake his hand, I have to count my fingers. He’s so tight that when he blinks, his toes curl. He likes the kind of money that stays in his pocket. He’s tighter than your hatband. I reminded him that there is only one shopping day left until tomorrow and sold him my old horse.”

“The blind one?” I wonder aloud.


“Did you tell him the horse was blind?” I ask.

“I told Weasel that he’d purchased a fine horse, but one that doesn’t look good.



I walked along the edge of the lake. I saw a hooded merganser, a tiny duck looking heavy-headed. There were a number of common loons on the water. Several sang bits of their haunting songs tuning up. It was practice for when they arrived on their nesting lakes. Five red-breasted merganser drakes chased one hen around the lake. A sixth drake, maintaining a respectful distance, floated along hoping for an opening on the female’s dance card.

In my yard fox sparrows fed on the ground scratching through leaf litter by hopping with both feet.

The male cardinal, dressed in a red tuxedo, flew in and offered the female a sunflower seed. She accepted his kind offer as if it were his high school letter jacket. They are going steady. This action is called mate-feeding.

The sun shone brightly on what had been a cool, snowy day. Winter had threatened to become the new spring. The blacktop steamed in response, and my welcome mat took the opportunity to let off a little steam of its own.



Karen Vanderploeg of Hollandale wondered how to keep grackles from hogging the feeders. Common grackles are common in yards. They eat like a bird — voraciously. They prefer seed offered on platform feeders or scattered on the ground. They find tube feeders, especially those with short perches, less to their liking. Perches can be trimmed or eliminated so that only small birds can find footing. A feeder could be enclosed in a wire cage that allows smaller birds entry while excluding grackles. This could be a do-it-yourself project or a commercial feeder. A thistle feeder attracts goldfinches instead of grackles. Some feeders are equipped with mechanisms that close feeding ports when larger birds get on them. Safflower is not a grackle’s favorite food. Cheap seed mixes attract grackles.

Jamie Tenneson of Clarks Grove asked if she’s more likely to see a Wilson’s snipe or an American woodcock in a ditch. The snipe would be most at home in that habitat. In general, woodcock (also called timberdoodles or bogsuckers) are found around woodlands and thickets, while snipe prefer wetlands and muddy areas. The snipe is more streamlined and has stripes (in line with bill) on its head. A woodcock looks like leaf litter, has large bulging eyes, a bigger head and bars across part of its head. The flexible tip of the woodcock’s bill is specialized for capturing earthworms.

“Do rabbits eat their feces?” Rabbits have two kinds of feces, soft (cecotropes) and hard. The act of eating (recycling) the soft feces is called corprophagy. Unlike ruminants such as cows, rabbits don’t regurgitate their food or chew a cud to extract the maximum amount of nutrition from their diet. Rabbits eat cecotropes to extract all the nutrition from their feed.
Squirrel-proofing a feeder

Irvin Zenk of Albert Lea gave me information on a squirrel-proof feeder he has built. The feeder is about 18 inches long and 8 inches wide. Flashing (about 8 inches wide) is stapled to the base and this flashing collapses to the pole when squirrels attempt to climb onto it. Irvin added, “This does work.”


Wisdom from the second grade

Scott Moeller, naturalist at the Linnaeus Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College, took a second grade class on a visit to the Borgeson family cabin. The cabin was built in 1866 by Swedish pioneers and moved from Norseland to the Arboretum. The original chinking (the material stuffed between the logs to keep out the wind, rain and snow) was made from manure, straw, grass, sticks, corncobs and newspapers. Carl Borgeson served with the Union Army during the Civil War and lived with his wife, Clara, eight children and a hired man in that tiny cabin-approximately 12 by 20 with two rooms and a sleeping loft.

Scott asked the second-graders what they had learned from their visit to the spare cabin. One girl replied, “We don’t need as much stuff as we think we do.”


Rural mail carriers count

For a few days in April, July and October each year, Nebraska rural mail carriers keep track of the wild creatures they see. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s longest-running program, the Rural Mail Carrier Survey, began in 1944, primarily to obtain pheasant counts for setting hunting seasons. Carriers report other species identified from the road: quail, grouse, wild turkeys, jackrabbits and deer. Quail, grouse, pheasant and jackrabbit numbers are down. Turkey and deer populations are up.


Thanks for stopping by

“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” — John Burroughs

“Having more joy does not necessarily require a life overhaul — you may just need to create more space in your life for moments of joy.” — Debrena Jackson Gandy




Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at