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How Smart Are Grackles?

You may have heard that some birds are exceptionally smart–that some can even recognize themselves in a mirror. But what about grackles? You may have noticed the shiny dark birds are not put off by your predator statues, but just how smart are grackles? Can they use tools? Plan ahead? Remember where they hid food? Read on to learn more.

Are Grackles Smart?

Are Grackles Smart

There are many smart birds in the world, but are grackles among them?

Despite having relatively small brains compared with other birds, grackles show many signs of being smart. Anyone who has ever had their lunch stolen from a grackle or watched one of the shimmery blue-black birds foraging for food will agree that, though grackles are not the smartest birds out there, they are smart in their own way. 

So, what makes them smart? What are some of the characteristics about grackles that give them their cunning, crafty reputation?

  • Grackles are adaptable: Like any species considered “invasive,” grackles have a great ability to adapt to changing environments and situations. This is partly due to their ability to respond to changes and understand their own physical limitations.
  • Grackles are hard to fool: In general, grackles are able to tell when a threat is real and when it’s not. For example, they may initially be scared off by a static deterrent such as a scarecrow or predator statue, but it won’t take them long to figure out that the statues don’t move and therefore can’t hurt them.
  • Grackles are bold: If you’ve ever had a french fry stolen from right off your picnic table, you know how bold these birds can be. What’s more, they seem to have an innate sense of when it’s safe to encroach on new territory and when it’s not.

As mentioned above, though, grackles are not considered one of the smartest birds out there.

According to an article published in the New York Times, they don’t have the necessary skills to be innovative like some other birds do–they don’t necessarily learn new tricks for dealing with changes in their environment. Instead, their adaptability has more to do with their boldness and observational abilities than their mental capacity.

What are the Smartest Birds?

So, grackles are smart, but there are many smarter birds in the world. What are some of these smart birds, and why are they considered to be exceptionally smart?

Let’s take a look:

  • Crows: Crows have exceptionally large brains for their size and are considered one of the smartest birds in the world. They are highly innovative, frequently creating tools from objects in their environment, and some studies suggest they have the ability to count, recognize faces, and create close bonds with humans.
  • Ravens: Ravens are closely related to crows and have much of the same brain power. They often work in pairs when hunting so one member can distract the parent and the other member can snatch the vulnerable baby. Ravens also show some ability to plan ahead, not only creating tools but saving useful ones for later. They even have the memory to recognize other ravens that they haven’t seen for many years.
  • Jays: There are many species of jay, some of which can use tools, mimic skills by watching, and even mimic the sounds of humans and other birds. One jay species, the scrub jay, will plan ahead what it wants to eat for breakfast the next day, gather that specific food, and store it wherever it plans to eat it.
  • Nutcrackers: Nutcrackers spend their summers storing up food for the winter in up to 15,000 distinct locations. Come wintertime, they are able to remember and recover each of these hidden caches of food even when snow and ice change the look of the landscape.
  • Magpies: Magpies are the only birds known to recognize themselves when looking in a mirror. They have also been observed playing a game like hide and seek, as well as holding funeral-like ceremonies for deceased members of their flock.

What Behaviors Show that Grackles are Smart?

As you can no doubt tell from the above list, there are some pretty smart birds in the world. Though grackles may not be able to use tools or plan ahead, they are smart in their own way.

But what is their own way? What specific skills do they have that show their smarts?

  • Hunting and foraging: Grackles can often be seen flocking to a field as a plow passes by, taking advantage of the worms and insects that have just been brought to the surface. They have even been observed wading into shallow water to snatch minnows, keeping their tails up to avoid getting wet. They will eat just about anything they can find and will almost never pass up an opportunity for an easy meal.
  • Overcoming deterrents: As noted above, scarecrows and other static deterrents won’t keep grackles away for long. They will observe potential threats from a distance and, once they are satisfied that an object poses no danger, they will stop avoiding it.
  • Mating rituals: Male grackles often engage in a ritual known as “bill tilt,” which involves pointing their bills at the sky in order to establish dominance and win females. The most unique thing about this ritual is that it is almost always peaceful, which shows that grackles are concerned about establishing their own “class system” without injuring or killing weaker birds. 

Are Grackles and Crows Related?

Are Grackles and Crows Related

Grackles and crows are both birds, of course, but they are not closely related because they belong to two separate families. Crows belong to the Corvidae family, while grackles are a part of the Icterid family.

Crows have larger brains than grackles. In fact, crows are much larger all around than grackles; crows may weigh up to two pounds while grackles only weigh up to five ounces. 

If you look closely, you’ll also notice stark physical differences: crows have dark eyes, while grackles have beady yellow eyes. Crows are shiny black, while grackles have a shiny blue, violet, bronze, or brown iridescence to their black feathers.

They sound much different too. Crows make the highly identifiable “caw, caw!” noise, while grackles make a range of other sounds–most often, they make a sound similar to rusty gate hinges creaking.

The following video shows a pair of grackles attempting to establish dominance by engaging in bill tilt and puffing their feathers. A minute and a half into the video, they are interrupted by the arrival of a crow at the feeder, and you are easily able to see the physical differences between grackles and crows.

Conclusion

Grackles are fairly smart, but they are not considered to be as smart as certain other birds like crows, ravens, and magpies. Grackles are smart enough to figure out where to find an easy meal and identify that a scarecrow isn’t real, but they are not able to use tools or mimic the sounds of other birds.

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