Qué: "Hey, what's that bird over there?" "Which one?" "That one that kinda looks like a Grackle?" "Oh, se llama 'Pichón Prieto' o... sí, un Grackle!" That was the conversation I was having in Spanglish on one of my first days in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico (actually, the conversation was in even more Spanish than above, but I figured it would make a little more sense for readers this way...). So, the medium-sized noisy black bird with a distinctly yellow eye was in fact the Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger). Even though I am about 3,000 miles south of where I live in Burlington, I am still greeted every morning by the ceaseless cackling of these gregarious birds. Only this time I am serenaded (maybe not quite the right verb) by flocks of the southern cousin of Quiscalus quiscula, about which Teage has been blogging so much recently. Even though I am in the Caribbean, known for the more sexy and showy specimens like the Puerto Rican Tody or Parrot, these Grackles immediately provided me with a connection to my home in the north, and I am now fond of them.
Notas Ecológicas: This is an adult with a juvenile that have been hanging around the rooftops adjacent to my apartment. You can tell the young one by the slightly ruffled look of its feathersand the fact that (as you can see in the above photos and the videos below) it was squawking and opening its mouth, crying out for some food. See videos below for the actual feeding event! One thing you can't notice in these photos (but I welcome you to Google search other images of them) is that when they land and are walking around, their tail feathers seem to cluster together and fan upwards like a little rutter instead of laying flat. It was really noticeable at first, and if I can get another photo in that position, I will add it to this post. There is an endemic subspecies of Grackle in Puerto Rico (Quiscalus niger brachypterus), but I have no way yet of knowing if this is what I am seeing. Like many other islands in the Antilles, each tends to have a number of endemic species - for birds, they tend to be subspecies, but in the case of terrestrial reptiles and amphibians, the amount of endemics is very high, because of the geographic isolation of each island - which, of course, is less of an obstacle for birds. It is interesting to note that in several lists of bird species for Puerto Rico, there are about 350 observed. Vermont, by contrast (which is about 3x larger, but certainly not as bio-geophysically diverse) has around 371 observed.
Dónde: Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. I see them nearly everywhere - perched on the rooftops around the apartment I am staying in, foraging on the ground, accosting people hanging out in the central plaza, and eating everything from insects to crumbs, and discarded papas fritas from the fast food joints.
Otras notas: I have been noticing a number of birds that resemble our Vermont. When I say things like - "Oh, that looks like a Peewee" or as "Is that a vireo singing?" the answer is normally "Yes - that's the Lesser Antillean Pewee!" (Contopus latirostrus). I've also come to love the "Julian Chiví" - or Cuban Vireo (Vireo gundlachii) - which is the conservation symbol of the organization I am working with for master's project down here, Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas. In fact, every February when the Julian Chiví migrates to Puerto Rico from its wintering sites in Venezuela (oh, pobresito), there is a big festival celebrating its return. One of my other favorite vireos is the "Bien-te-veo"(Vireo latimeri) which makes the classic basket-looking Vireo nest that we all know and love, and sings a nice little song that can be easily interpreted as a doling out of pleasantries to us passers-by ("Bien te veo!" means "Nice to see you!"). Another familiar bird that I am working with (in the sense that the conserved area is key habitat for this species) is the Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus venator - so called for its Puerto Rican subspecies, or "Falcón de Sierra." While it is common in North America, this rare subspecies is found only in five isolated forested mountain areas and is on the federal endangered species list. (I am currently creating some very impressive looking GIS maps showing the predicted habitat and observed occurrences for the Falcón de Sierra in the protected forest area I am working in). But for now, I'll keep communing with the Grackles...