Fall Performance
Naturalist(s): Karen A. Finch
Date: Nov. 26, 2011
Location(s): Sarasota, Fl, Celery Fields (map)
Sarasota, Fl, Celery Fields

Field notes
Each winter from November through January, thousands of resident Boat-tailed Grackles roost in wetlands around Sarasota. During this period it is common to see males gather and vigorously display to one another. Why the males are so active is not apparent, given that females seem to pay little attention to them. The group behavior of the males I videotaped, however, is similar to displays performed during the breeding season, which suggests that a male performs to impress other males.

   The collective performance of the males I videotaped was indeed multifaceted. For example, while one bird sang and fluffed up its feathers, his companions pointed their bills skyward while blinking their eyes. During the performance, they occasionally shuffled positions and even finished each others' song.

   The cavorting on the fence that I observed resembles a behavior called lekking (competitive mating displays), albeit the gatherings are temporary and highly mobile. And during the ten minutes I filmed the birds, one male appeared to dominate the other performers. Is he the alpha male of this particular group of grackles? I believe he is for the following reasons: He performed longer and more intense displays, he was located at the center of the group, he finished the song of at least one other male in the group and, when the birds were disturbed by a passing pedestrian, he was the last to fly away. (The entire performance is not shown on the video.)

During breeding season, male Boat-tailed Grackles also coordinate their displays (see TEP story "Duetting Boat-tailed Grackles").
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