Friday, 12 June 2015

The Grackle's Chronicle -The Other Side of the Story

Carib Grackle

There are always two sides to a story, some people say three sides.  It is almost folklore the way Blackbirds, our local name for the Carib Grackle (Quiscalus lugubris), are perceived as very aggressive especially towards Herons and Egrets.  You can guarantee that on any given day, whether rainfall or sunshine, you will see Grackles chasing Egrets or Herons.  That side of the story I knew very well, but the other side was made clear to me on the afternoon of June 2nd while on my way home from work.  As I was driving under an Ackee tree (Melicoccus bijugatus)(not to be confused with Jamaican Ackee Blighia sapida ) which was planted next to the roadway, I saw a Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) sitting in the tree, from the corner of my eyes.  He was being hounded by a flock of Carib Grackles.  As I drove along, I thought to myself “poor egret”, however something did not seem quite right, but I could not figure out what it was.  As I drove, I continued playing the scene over in my head and it struck me that the Cattle Egret was furiously stabbing away at something with its bill.  “He was invading the nest!”  I blurted, and stopped the car, turned around and returned the tree.  
The following series of photographs shows what I saw when I arrived at the Ackee tree. 
The Cattle Egret with a Grackle chick in its mouth

Tossing the chick head first into its bill

Lifting head to help swallow its prey whole

The Grackles attacks were ignored

Not fully down

It took him about two minutes to fully consume the chick and after a short break he started on a second one.  Meanwhile the colony of Grackles tried helplessly to chase him off.
The Cattle Egret starting on the other chick
 Then suddenly without warning he left the second chick, which I assumed was already dead, and flew off, with four or five chirping birds behind him.  Now that was something I was accustomed to seeing but now it felt different, I was rooting for those poor Grackles.

It was only this year with a nesting Grassland Yellow Finch, who nest on the ground, that I realized that Cattle Egrets are guilty of the predation of other bird’s chicks, but I never expected to see one invading a nest stationed in a tree and with such savagery.  It was an eye opener for me and it reminded me to always get the other side of the story.