Wildlife Watch by Marian Harman – June 2020


Common Grackles

Common Grackle by Doug Pederson

Are your feeders dominated by grackles? Ours are too. Common Grackles are large birds, 11-13 inches long, with long beaks. Their coloring is black with a beautiful iridescent sheen of blue, purple and bronze. Their eyes are bright golden yellow. Surprisingly, though they are common and widespread, grackles are among those birds that are declining in numbers. The breeding bird survey has determined that between 1966 and 2014, grackles declined by 58%.

Grackles are primarily seed eaters, but love suet too, and at nesting time, they feed lots of suet to their hatchlings. Each morning, we put out a block of suet and fill the tube feeder with mixed seed. In Spring, both the suet and seed are gone by lunchtime. Our area, near the swampy margins of Snake Meadow Brook and Keyes Pond, is a favorite nesting spot for red-winged blackbirds and common grackles. At this time of year, the parents are not only feeding themselves, but also a nest full of demanding baby birds. Soon those babies will fledge and begin to accompany their parents to the feeders. We’ve decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. So, we continue to fill the feeders each morning, but when its gone, we don’t refill them that day. Anything that falls to the ground feeds mourning doves, sparrows and squirrels. Fortunately, grackles don’t like thistle seed or hummingbird sugar water, so some other birds, such as hummingbirds, chickadees and finches, can still come to those feeders. I have also noticed red-bellied woodpeckers sipping at the hummingbird feeder.

As you watch the activity of the grackles and red-winged blackbirds at the feeder, some interesting interactions are apparent. One female red-winged blackbird waited for the suet feeder which was being defended by a grackle. Suddenly, a male red-winged blackbird (presumably the female’s mate) flew in with great speed and knocked the astonished grackle off the suet. The female took immediate action and flew onto the suet to grab a quick piece of suet. The male red-wing waited for the female, and they both flew off together, the female carrying the suet chunk, probably to their nest. It seemed that the red-wings had in some way cooked up this clever strategy together.

Later in the summer, all the grackles in an area will gather together in huge, excited, noisy flocks, and then most will migrate to warmer parts of the U.S. They are short-range migrators. Their range is confined to the US and southern Canada. Come winter, we will miss the blackbirds and look forward to their return in the spring.

Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of June. Please send reports by June 26 to appear in next month’s column. You can write to me at 7A Old Colony Drive, call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at mariancharman@gmail.com.

March-May Late Reports:


Kate Hollister:, Vine Brook Rd. March 3, frogs are out in the street. March 11, grackles, red-winged blackbirds and peepers are back. March 15, a bear went through the neighborhood last night and pulled down bird feeders.  April, at the feeder: goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, Carolina wren, mourning doves, nuthatches, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, juncos, red and grey squirrels, purple finch, blue jays, titmice, grackles, cowbirds. Also moles and chipmunks. barred owls vocalizing at night. May, northern oriole, deer, snapping turtle walked across our lawn, hummingbirds, chipping sparrows, rabbit, bumblebees, blue butterflies, turkey, barred owls, bald eagle, indigo bunting. At Kennedy Pond, painted turtles, garter snake, and bullfrogs.

Sue Bonner, Plain Rd. May 18, turkey pecking at our basement widow. I got photos from inside and out. “Reminded us of the  insurance ad.” [Sue sent cute photos-MH]

Peggy Bennett, Nabnasset St. Mid to late May, saw my first male and female indigo buntings. Eastern phoebe pair nesting under the farmer’s porch roof on top of a window sill. I see the babies every day catching flies. Large flock of robins, starlings, blackbirds and crows hanging out on front lawn. Blue jays and pair of cardinals. Red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker and Northern flicker in the large maples. Pileated woodpecker drilling in a rotted hole in another maple. He didn’t fly away when he saw me and I was able to get a great video. Garter snake in the garden and two more living in the granite foundation of the barn.

Ann Mahoney, Stratton Hill Rd. May 27, bluebird with a caterpillar, perched on hanging planters. [Ann sent a video of this pretty bird-MH]

Tom Lumenello, Old Colony Drive. May 27, “house wrens have taken up lodging in a small birdhouse near our kitchen window–fun to watch”.

John Piekos, Dunstable Road. May 28, wildlife camera got a night shot of a fisher in the yard,[John sent a good photo of the fisher-MH]

Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. Last week of May: many crows, upset at something, scarlet tanager heard, pee-wee heard.


June Reports:


Marian/Bill Harman, Old Colony Drive. June 1 a walk by Keyes Pond: A dead pine tree, stripped of bark, and one of the few trees left standing in the microburst area, is the nesting spot for a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers. They are feeding babies. Mother red-belly drinks repeatedly from our hummingbird feeder. Father eats the suet. A female red-winged blackbird wanted some suet, but a large grackle was sitting on it and defending it. The male red-wing, flew in suddenly and fast, and knocked the grackle off the suet, long enough for the female red-wing to grab some suet–how gallant! Pair of hummingbirds, hairy woodpecker. June 4, there is a new oriole in our area–sounds like “would you like some bird seed?” Tremendous amount of pine pollen around now. June 7, walked on the newly cleared trail by Snake Meadow Brook. Len Palmer and Dave Ebitson spent two days clearing many huge trees–many thanks! June 11, catbird at suet often. Sounds of what sounds like a young raven, clicking and making begging noises. A broad-winged hawk often perches by the pond, and flies circles while emitting its high-pitched whistle. Crow sitting on top of a pine while a male oriole was strafing it repeatedly. Crow eventually flew away. A female hummingbird hit our glass slider and landed upside down in a chair, breathing heavily. She managed to fly away as I went out to her. June 15, a catbird at the suet, chasing off the grackles–brave! June 20, hot today–high 80’s. House finch at the thistle seed–hardly ever see them here. June 22, baby day at the feeder: parents feeding downy babies, red-winged blackbirds, crows, red-belled woodpecker babies, titmice babies, grackle babies being fed. June 24, early evening, the male baby downy woodpecker hit our slider and was knocked unconscious. We put him in the cat cage, put him in the bathroom and shut the door. He awoke after awhile and rolled over onto his tummy, but couldn’t stand. He took a little cat food mixed with water from a dropper. The next day, he took a little more mixture, but became much more feisty, which was a good sign. He still couldn’t stand or fly, just scuttle along the bottom of the cage. Later he refused to be fed by dropper, and fed himself a little suet. We kept him one more night while we located a rehabber willing to take him–not easy. Finally we found that the Lunenburg Animal Hospital which has a license to treat non-migratory wild birds, would take him–Yay! Bill drove him over and made a donation to their program. I think we need to put stripes on our big windows to prevent these collisions.

Jeff Diercks, at Rome Drive conservation land. June 5, at the rookery, only saw two active great blue heron nests. Then an osprey flew in with something in its talons. “After almost half and hour it leaned over and jabbed downward repeatedly, finally enjoying its lunch…. That’s three visits to the rookery this year for me, each of which produced an osprey viewing. I hope others have had a chance to enjoy seeing them too”.

Elona Hart, at Greystone Pond. June 6, killdeer and chick, painted turtles, rough-winged swallows. A large snapping turtle seen on a Greystone Pond trail this morning.[Elona sent some good photos of these animals-MH]

Tom Lumenello, Old Colony Drive. June 6. A phoebe has a nest on top of the garage light. One of the eggs hatched, a large blue one–a cowbird. It hatched and the baby is yapping for food. Meanwhile, there are four white eggs (phoebe eggs) that have not hatched yet. [this mother bird appears to be raising these babies all on her own–no male seen-MH]

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. June 15, Tom sent photos of blue flag iris and the pretty flowers of deadly nightshade in his yard.

Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. June Report: two pairs of blue jays, cardinal pair, male feeding female. It serenades us each evening–nice to hear. house finch, purple finch, goldfinch, robins in the yard, perhaps with a nest nearby. Doves sitting in the bird bath, taking baths, robins also taking baths. They like the shallow bird bath. Chickadees, grackles, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, sparrows, pair of downy woodpeckers, male red-belled woodpecker, three rose-breasted grosbeaks–two males and a female. hawk circling overhead, red-winged blackbirds. All are a joy to see. Gray squirrels, adult bunny, bees.  At Grassy Pond, a garter snake. Turkeys sit in dust and ruffle their feathers.

Very bizarre sound one night. A screech, growl, fluttering. They seemed to climb up our big pine–mystery.

Peggy Bennett, Nabnasset St. June Report: three families of cotton-tailed rabbits. One mom by the house with five babies. Several of the babies had a white diamond mark on the forehead. Eight cedar waxwings in the cherry tree for almost a week–one of my personal favorite birds. Red-tailed hawk, cooper’s hawk, pair of cowbirds, one mockingbird and one catbird, male Baltimore oriole near the feeder we put out, but he found a wasp nest with something better inside. Two hummingbirds. At Nabnasset Country Club: a bald eagle flew over the golf course. At Nabnasset Lake: swan, great blue heron, painted turtle, ten red-winged blackbirds, one beaver, large-mouthed bass, sunfish, newly-hatched dragonflies, two kingfishers, one sandpiper in a quiet cove near Shipley Swamp, four tree swallows. “I’ve been kayaking on Nab Lake and really enjoying Shipley Swamp”.

Marilyn Day, Graniteville Rd. June 19, pair of very large hawks–broad-winged? June 24, tiger swallowtail butterfly [Marilyn sent a lovely photo of this butterfly on sweet william plant [MH].

Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. June 21- our beaver pond had become empty of beavers, and thus was much less vibrant in terms of wildlife. Early this spring, the pond seemed higher, and I went to investigate. I saw a beaver lodge at the edge of the pond, near a well-maintained dam. ” I disturbed not one, but three great blue heron, which soared across the pond to the other side”. [Kate sent photos of the beavers’ constructions-MH]

Tom Ennis, Almeria Drive. June 22, noticed a different blooming shrub at the edge of the yard near the wetlands. [Tom sent good photos and we identified it as silky dogwood, a beautiful native-MH]

Bob Oliphant, Robinson Rd. June 24. A hawk landed on our deck railing, eyeing a wren house on the side of our house that has one or more baby wrens in it now. [Bob sent a photo and we identified it as a cooper’s hawk-MH]

Carol Engel, Lowell Rd. June 25- a hawk is in the shrub in the middle of our driveway, chasing a bird, grey, couldn’t see any other field marks.

Debbie Prato, Hayrick Lane. June 25, mallards, cottontail, turkey hen with five poults.


            Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust. The Trust is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails, and welcomes new members and volunteers. Check us out on our website at westfordconservatio