Blackbirds, Grackles, Orioles & Meadowlarks

These birds (members of the Icterid family) all have straight bills tapering to a dagger-like point. Special muscles in their skull allow them to "pry open their beaks, like opening a pair of scissors poked into soft earth. This helps them find buried insects. Orioles in particular possess powerful leg muscles that allow them to forage acrobatically among tree limbs in order to snatch bugs like caterpillars, or to dance on the edge of an orange half while plucking out the fruit." (from Texas Parks & Wildlife)


Red-Winged Blackbird (Seen in The Woodlands, TX)


Red-winged Blackbird, male

During breeding season, the male blackbird thrusts out his chest, opens his mouth wide, and would make any choir leader proud .... until the sound comes out. he sounds like a harsh, gurgling, trilling giant cicada!
Red-winged Blackbird, female

Females flock together until breeding season, when the polygamous male establishes his territory.

Who IS that giant "sparrow" ?!?" More than likely, a female red-winged blackbird! Isn't she gorgeous!
Brown-headed Cowbird (Seen in The Woodlands, TX)
Cowbird, male female
Our backyard is much too shaded to attract
the cowbird (luckily!) but one summer we had
this immature bird (photo at left) at our feeder.

The female Cowbird NEVER builds a nest!
She puts her eggs in other birds nests -
she's a massive egg-producer, and usually
leaves only one egg per nest -- the young are
often much larger than the host bird's babies,
to the detriment of those birds.

It turned out that a lovely Wood Thrush was
parenting this bird (one of the reasons that
the Wood Thrush is disappearing.) Sad story.


Common Grackle (Seen in The Woodlands, TX)
Both males and females have bright yellow eyes. Common Grackle, juvenile -- this bird is more brown, with dark eyes.
The male common grackle (close-up) is full of color - a purple head, a bronzy body. 
Great-tailed Grackle (Seen in The Woodlands, TX)
Great-tailed Grackle, male This is the largest of the grackles.  In Texas, if it has yellow eyes and is away from the coast, it's a great (not boat)-tailed grackle!
Great-tailed Grackle, female
Boat-tailed Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle, male.  (Note the dark brown eyes) Boat-tailed Grackle, female.  In Texas, these are seldom found more than about 30 miles from the coast.


Western Meadowlark
The Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are basically distinguishable by their SONG. Nevertheless, we took these photos near San Francisco, California, and thus are confident that it is the Western bird!


The most striking difference between the orioles and their kin above (other than their nest that looks like a dirty sock hanging in a tree) is their color, a striking orange, yellow and black coat of feathers.

Altimira Oriole
Altimira Oriole - The largest oriole in Texas. The southern tip of Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, is the ONLY place north of Mexico to find this bird! It has a yellowish-orange body and a coal-black throat. Both sexes look the same. That swipe of orange on the wing is the clue. The Altimira oriole is a year-round Texas resident.
Hooded Oriole
Hooded Oriole (male) - A yellow-orange bird with a black bib. The name "Hooded" is from the black bib's resemblance to a monks' cowl. resemblance Hooded Oriole (female) -  would you ever guess that they're the same bird?? She is drab gray on top, pale yellow below. These birds migrate from northern Mexico into Texas and the desert southwest of the U.S.
Audubon Oriole
Only the Altamira oriole and the Audubon oriole call Texas home all year.  It lives primarily in the South Texas brushlands. "Male and female are identical, with lemon-yellow bodies shrouded on the head and neck by sleek black hoods." (Tx Parks & Wildlife)  It can be difficult to find, hiding among tree branches and singing in a soft whistle.
 Bullock's Oriole
Bullock's Oriole (immature) Unlike the Baltimore Oriole, the Bullock's oriole has a black cap rather than a black hood, and it has a distinguishing black line running horizontally through it eye.  It also has a big white wing patch, that looks like a smear of white paint!

The female is plain, with a yellow-orange wash on face and throat. It winters in Mexico, and nests in West Texas.