Thursday, December 08, 2005

Black Is Black - Unless...

We had a white grackle in our yard the other day.

Let's just pause for a moment to let that sink in......a WHITE grackle.

"But"you say "I thought that they all were...." Yeah, so did we. Until we (let me say it again) had a white grackle in our yard the other day.

Truth be told it wasn't entirely colorless - closer actually to ninety-eight percent. There were small black spots at the shoulders of the wing, and possibly on the tips. Because we were in the house we didn't get terribly close to it. It was outside in our yard along with about eighty or so of its closest grackle chums who had descended en masse onto our property. They do this periodically - as do the crows and the starlings.

Of these three groups the grackles are my personal favorites. Their oil colored feathers and hop along walks are mighty entertaining. The crows are also a lot of fun with their stop and go swagger - they act as if their mind has to consciously remind their body to move with each step. But since they are larger than the grackles we can get more of the latter on our property thus increasing the quantity of the entertainment.

I never knew what attracted these groups, but they all seemed to be quite serious about pecking at our grass and evidently have been finding rewarding things therein. Just for the record a group of crows is called a "murder" or a "muster" and a gang of starlings is a "chattering" or "murmuration". My research found no such spiffy names for a bunch of grackles.

Anyway there was the usual large unnamed crowd of grackles on my lawn, which Marsha was kind of watching, when her eye caught a glimpse of a bobbing and pecking speck of white in the midst of the wall-to-wall bouncing blackness. She called out to me and I confirmed her sighting. Then a dog or something wandered by and frightened off the whole bunch of them.

After we both said "But I thought they were all....", I went to the internet to look for information on white grackles.

The top of the list in Google (and therefore the most frequently accessed source) said in it's short description "On October 10 or 12, 1893, a farmer named Dean Miller shot a White Grackle on his farm one mile west of here....". "Here" turned out to be Nebraska, and that was pretty much all that that story told me. That article turned out to be the only one I could find on "White" Grackles.

I did however learn in another piece that the conventionally colored members of that species ate acorns (the reason they were flocking to my oak-bordered yard). I was also informed that "although birds have no teeth, the Common Grackle is one species that has prominent tooth-like projections in its palate; these barbs--like the ones at the back of the triangular tongue--keep live prey items from crawling out after the grackle swallows them whole." (

However, other than in the Nebraska farmer story, there was no mention of grackles coming in any hue other than basic black. I reported my lack of success to Marsha.

"Maybe it's like the White Buffalo." she said. I remembered that the sighting of the chalky bison was a spiritual event with major ramifications for those who saw it - but I didn’t know what those consequences were.

"Is the White Buffalo supposed to be a good sign or a bad one?" "Good, I think." she answered. So I rushed back to Google - hoping that I could learn something from the myth of the W.B. that we could apply to our own snow-colored Grackle.

"Many years ago", says Tony Ironshell of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota, "three hunters encountered a white buffalo calf. The white buffalo turned into a woman and instructed the hunters to return to their village and prepare for her arrival. When she came four days later, she carried the sacred pipe. With that pipe she brought Sioux laws, and many things changed."

"In their ancient White Buffalo Dance, the Fox Indians of Wisconsin shadow the vision of a legendary hunter, who could turn himself into a white buffalo at will after the beast appeared to him in a dream. A white buffalo with red eyes and horns, says the Fox, gave the hunter the power to single-handedly turn back an army of attacking Sioux." (

In other words - seeing the W.B. is a very good thing. But clearly irrelevant to our life style. So I decided to continue searching the internet hoping to find a "white something" legend that we could, without too much twisting, transfer to the grackle and then, with great personal benefit, to ourselves.

From I learned that "Since the first cultivated eggplants were white, the name 'egg' was the logical choice since they were, and still are, about two inches in diameter." - interesting but not unusual enough to be life-altering.

In Brevard North Carolina White Squirrels are apparently common enough to have their own festival - complete with a "White Squirrel Village". That's as far as I went with that one.

And seeds for White Tomatoes, some heritage, are readily available for planting in anyone's garden. Even the white poppy is fairly common as a symbol of the peace movement and as such is probably banned from gardens in the Red States.

No help here. So I'll just have to make up my own myth of the White Grackle - which I will call the saga of Sinaiglansstare.

Like most of her relatives and friends Sinaiglansstare liked to spend her days flying around with her fellow grackles, stopping at open fields and decimating the acorns, insects and other edibles that they found. Of these victuals the fruits of the oak tree were by far her favorite. But as housing developments and industrial parks took up more and more of the available land, there were fewer and fewer unclaimed spaces for she and her friends to hang out in.

One day they returned to the birth place of Sinaiglansstare to find all of the oak trees gone, the ground paved with black asphalt, and every one of the nuts raked up and removed. The sudden shock of seeing her ancestral home razed to the ground drained all but two percent of the black coloration from her body. And her anger turned this mild-mannered bird into a great avian leader and an unstoppable crusader who, in the process, also somehow became impervious to bullets (especially those fired by Nebraska farmers).

"I will fly forever with my nameless group of black grackles to find a place that is filled with healthy oaks and an unending supply of food. I will know this spot by its overabundance of acorns and by the friendliness of it’s inhabitants - they will be true F.O.G.'s (Friends Of Grackles). And then I will die there.

But from my remains will arise even more oaks, impervious to any of man's attempts to remove them. Fruits, vegetables and flowers will also flourish on that land. Never more will my fellow grackles need to fly all around the world searching for sustenance.

And, by the way, the owners of that land will become incredibly rich, irresistibly attractive, and able to eat whatever they want , whenever they want, without ever gaining even one ounce of fat. Oh, they'll also have a lot of great sex too."

Who knows? Perhaps this myth, imaginary as it may seem, can really come true. And maybe, if I buy enough acorns and spread them around my yard, then someday I will find Sinaiglansstare lying feet up and heart stopped in the very same spot on my lawn that the other white grackle appeared.

Soon thereafter my lawn will become lush and my flowers will flourish. And my oak trees will tower over it all, showering acorns onto the gathering of oily black birds below. And all that other good stuff will happen too.

Then I would say that a group of grackles should be called a "Blessing".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I live in College Station, Texas and just saw your buddy the white grackle here yesterday. I did however, find out some information. It was a Leucistic Grackle. From what I could tell, it is along the same lines as an albino. Apparently, there can be all kinds of leucistic animals (snakes, birds, lions, frogs, etc.). I had the same reaction to the freakish bird in the grocery store parking lot, though. Man, those things are strange!! :)