Saturday, May 25, 2013

Great-tailed Grackle in Manitoba

On May 18th 2013, I was training this year’s atlas crew (Amanda Guercio, Mark Dorriesfield, Janine McManus and Amelia Thornhill) at the beautiful Quesnel  Lake Lodge in Nopiming Provincial Park, thanks to the generous assistance of lodge owners Peter and Carol. Around 5 pm that evening, Amelia spotted a bird that had apparently “blown in” on the strong winds, landing at the tip of the point on which the lodge is located. As Amelia couldn’t identify this bird, she showed it to Mark and then, suspecting something unusual, they came to get me. It became apparent that we were looking at Manitoba’s very first recorded Great-tailed Grackle (if record accepted). I took the following photos to document this exceptional find (click on any photo to view at full-screen):

The first photo shows most of the diagnostic features of the female Great-tailed Grackle: the pale eyebrow, the pale throat and submoustachial stripe and the thin dark lateral throat stripe that separates them, as well as the very pale eye colour. Also note the bill structure and size and the long-legged and long-tailed appearance.

This second photo is a crop to show the facial pattern in detail. This combination of features easily separates this species from the smaller Common Grackle. We also felt that colouration and markings were seen sufficiently well to rule out the extremely similar but even more unlikely Boat-tailed Grackle.

This view from the back also shows the tail shape and the wing and mantle colour in relation to the neck and underparts.

After landing and foraging on the rocks around the point, this “accidental” found lots to eat in the lawn around the lodge including various insects and scraps (as shown here).

We felt this bird also showed a distinctive gait, matching their lanky appearance, that was rather different from Common Grackle (3 photos below).

Although it took a while to get a suitable size comparison, I eventually managed to get this photo of the female Great-tailed Grackle next to an American Robin to document the size of this bird. It is important to note that the female Great-tailed Grackle is much smaller than the male and she is probably only a little larger than a male Common Grackle (which in turn is larger than female Common Grackle).

What an exceptional way to spice up this year’s training! Special thanks to my hard working crew!
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