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A High Use for Fritos

Thursday, February 17, 2011

So engrossed was I in learning about osprey molt that I lost track of my kids. Bill Webb tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out the dike road. 

"Look at Baby Zick."

Well, will you lookit that. Liam had taken it upon himself to raid our precious Frito stash for a bunch of panhandling boat-tailed grackles. I broke into a huge grin. 

What's not to love about boat-tailed grackles? Big and shiny beautiful they are, with melodious, metallic clanking calls that instantly evoke south Texas for me. They're bold innovators, smart as little crows.

Finding the Fritos a bit dry, they were taking them down to the water to soak them awhile before trying to break them up and swallow them.

This was not lost on Liam, who found their Frito processing quite charming. They reciprocated by performing some terrific dominance displays to each other.

I have the Frito and you don't. I am the Frito Bandito.

I take your Frito and raise you a Cheeto, you knave.

Liam kept the corn chips coming. He hoped they would eventually take them from his hand, if he was patient enough.

Hello, young lady. Liam was kind enough to give me a Frito. I noticed a familial resemblance between you two, so I'm just stopping by to see if you have anything edible up there on the bench.

Baby Zick indeed. He's showing excellent wild bird etiquette here, keeping his scary flapping extremities tucked, staying still and small, and facing away from the birds. None of this I've had to teach him; he just gets it. So does his sister. 

Given time, I'm sure they'd feed from his sweet hand.

Webb just emailed me, asking if I find ever spider webs that say "SOME KIDS!" 

 Alla time.


Wish I coulda been there for this episode of Baby Zick!

Exact same method and body language he used on Bear (the little brown cat).


I've never seen a territorial display involving Fritos. Brilliant!

It kind of looked like showing off to me, but I don't know much about grackles.

I have always suspected that Fritos had some purpose.

Fritos, Cheetos, and knaves... too funny!

Too much fun! His form is perfect, and grackles always make for good companions.

Ah, gosh. Grown, lovely kids!
My stepson Harry used to sit cross legged with his finger out as a ready perch for dragonflies, and he was patient enough that he had a couple land there. There just must be some kind of interspecies trust barometer. And Fritos don't hurt.

Great pictures--those grackles look glossy! Shows what can be done with patience and Fritos. Susan E

Posted by Anonymous February 17, 2011 at 3:29 PM

Truly, Baby Zick. A Frito gains fame while you hit a home run today, way, way out of the ballpark.

What Murr said.

A future ornithologist is born.

I wonder what the grackles would think about Tastykake Krimpets.

Wayne, PA

What a great shot of Phoebe - love the hair and the Jackie O. sunglasses.

Baby Zick! Awesome. Does that make Phoebe Baby Bill?

I think you may have a little lagniappe here - both great-tailed and boat-tailed grackles. We have both species occurring together here so have to learn to tell them apart. I do it by the shape of the heads. The flat-headed ones with the slightly relatively larger bills are the great-tailed ones, I think, while the round-headed ones are the boat-tails. (The boat-tails are prettier too.) If I'm correct, the first picture is of a great-tailed grackle. The one with the pair after "I have one and you don't" shows one of each.

I spent the weekend in Choke Canyon where a great-tail grackle sampled the oranges we put out for the Audubon orioles but which attracted some 8 other species as well.

Dear Marilyn,

Because I don't know jack about grackles, I turned to my favorite icterid oracle, Alvaro Jaramillo, who writes our "Identify Yourself" column for Bird Watcher's Digest. Here's what he says:

Hey you have yourselves Boat-tailed Grackles there, for all intents and purposes there are no Great-tails in Florida. That would be a real rarity/vagrant. The yellow eyes are interesting, you see there are two populations of Boat-tails that do show yellow eyes, although not in central Florida. I thought I was going to see this in your photos but instead I saw something different. What looks like yellow eyes are the nicticating membranes. Often when Boat tails do their displays (bill tilting is the one where they point their bills up in the air at each other and it means, “back off buddy!) they close their nicticating membranes. Half of my grackle photos from Florida have these creamy whitish nictitating eyes in them! Perhaps it is protection, perhaps it is part of the display! The safest way to separate the two great grackles, and they are great and cool when you watch them behave, is to listen to them. That raspy repeated trilled song is the classic Boat-tailed song, Great tails often sound like breaking sticks before some other complex notes.
By the way the Common Grackles in Florida are also a little different, they used to be called “Florida Grackles” in the old Peterson guide. They are darker and more blue and purple than the northern birds.

Zick again: How do you like that?? I was flipping out about the apparent eye color change in my photos, and now I understand.. Those grackles have a way of confounding good birders. That's why it's great to have friends like Chucao--(Alvaro's online handle, "grackle" en Espanol!

Thanks for the heads up, Marilyn. The listservs are certainly conflicting on this subject.



Thanks for the grackle help. I guess it's back to the drawing boards for me. We mostly have great-tailed grackles that like to sound like sirens.

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