Grakle ,.I. A conirostral bird of the East Indian genus gracula (Linn.), constituting in itself the subfamily guaculinoe of the family sturnidoe or starlings. The species, especially the mina bird (G. religiosa), are celebrated for their powers of song and speech. (See Mina Bird.) II. In the United States, the name of birds of the subfamily quiscalinoe or boat-tails, which includes the genera scolecophagus (Swains.), quiscalus (Vieill.), and scaphidurus (Swains.). The genus scolecophagus has the bill shorter than the head, nearly straight, slender, with the edges inflexed; the wings moderate and pointed, the first quill shorter than the second, third, and fourth, which are longest; the tail shorter than the wings, flat and nearly even; tarsi as long as the middle toe, with broad scutellae; toes long and slender, the hind toe long, and the slender claws sharp and slightly curved. The rusty grakle (S. ferrugineus, Swains.) is about 9 in. long, extent of wings 14 in., bill 1 in., tarsus 1 1/4; the plumage is soft and glossy, of a deep black color, with greenish and bluish reflections; the female is smaller, of a general brownish or rusty black, the feathers beneath margined with brownish; the young resemble the female, with the head, neck, and lower parts lighter brown, and the rump tinged with gray; in the autumn and winter even the males become rather rusty.
They are found from the Atlantic coast to the Missouri, migrating to the far north in the spring to breed; in the autumn they return to the south in small flocks with the cow-bunting and red-winged blackbird, with which they associate until spring returns. The flight is quick and undulating, and the walk is graceful, the tail being jerked up and down at every step. They frequent the corn fields and rice plantations, where they do little mischief; they are fond of the company of cattle, picking out the grain from their droppings; in the winter they resort to marshes and watercourses, feeding on aquatic insects and small mollusks. Their note is a kind of chuck, but during the breeding season they are noisy and have a lively and agreeable song. They are not very shy. The nest is built on low bushes in moist places, of coarse materials, and the eggs, four or five, are light blue, streaked and dashed with lines of brown and deep black. The Mexican grakle (S. cyanocephalus, Cab.) is a somewhat larger bird, with a stouter bill, and a purplish gloss confined to the head and neck; it is found from Minnesota to the Pacific, and as far south as Mexico. - The other grakles belong principally to the genus quiscalus, characterized by a bill as long as the head, broad, with the edges inflexed, and the tip of the upper mandible overhanging the under; the wings moderate, the second, third, and fourth quills the longest; the tail longer than the wings, graduated and the sides turned upward; the tarsi as long as the middle toe, strong, and greatly scutellated; the toes strong, and the hind one long, all scutellated; claws short, robust, and slightly curved.
More than 12 species are described, which migrate according to the seasons; in winter their immense flocks are very destructive on plantations, while in spring they devour from the fields and ploughed lands great numbers of worms, grubs, and caterpillars, injurious to vegetation; they pull the young corn soon after it has sprouted, and also attack it when in the milky state. The species found in the United States are best distinguished by the size and form of the tail. The largest is the great-tailed grakle (Q. macrourus, Swains.), 18 in. long, with an extent of wing of about 27, and the tail 9 1/4; the color is shining black, with purple and green reflections, and the feathers of the head soft and velvety; it is found from the valley of the Rio Grande in Texas southward. The boat-tailed grakle, great crow-blackbird, or jackdaw as it is sometimes called (Q. major, Vieill.), is about 16 in. long, with an extent of wings of 2 ft.; the color is shining black, the purple gloss being confined to the head, neck, and fore part of the breast, elsewhere with green reflections; the crown feathers are coarse and stiff.
Their habits are the same as those of the other grakles; they seek their food among the salt marshes and along the muddy shores, eating fiddler crabs, insects, worms, shrimps, and other aquatic animals; they are fond of the eggs of other birds, and commit depredations in the corn and rice fields. They are very shy, and fly at a considerable elevation and for long distances; the notes are harsh and shrill, though rather pleasing in the love season. The nest is large, of coarse materials, placed on tall reeds growing in the water, on smilax bushes, and on live oaks, where they breed in communities; they begin to lay about the 1st of April, sometimes earlier; the eggs, four or five, are dull white with irregular streaks of brown and black; only one brood is raised in a season. This species is found in the southern Atlantic and gulf states, near the coast, and in Texas. During the breeding season, the sides of the tail are turned upward, whence its common name has been derived. The purple grakle, or common crow-blackbird (Q. versicolor, Vieill.), is 13 in. long, with an extent of wings of 19; the head and neck are steel-blue, the rest of the plumage with varied reflections of bronze, golden, green, violet, and copper; the female is smaller, with a less brilliant and more brownish plumage.
The habits are the same as in the others of the genus; the friends of the farmer in spring by devouring grubs, in summer and early autumn they dispute the possession of the corn fields with the planters, who seek to frighten or destroy them; their mischief is so great that the corn is sometimes steeped in saline and bitter solutions to prevent it from being pulled up; in cold weather they feed upon beech nuts, acorns, and the refuse of the cattle pens. In the southern states the nest is generally in a hole in a decayed tree; the eggs, four to six, are bluish, with brown and black streaks and blotches; in the north, pine trees are favorite places for their nests. They are found in the Atlantic states, from New England to Florida, and on the high central plains of the continent. The flesh is eatable. - The genus scaphidurus has a long bill, with the culmen advancing on the forehead, and sloping to an acute and curved tip; the wings are long and pointed, the first quill the longest; the tail lengthened, graduated, with the sides turned upward.
They are found in the West Indies and in South America.
Purple Grakle (Quiscalus versicolor). 1. Female. 2. Male.