Different birds come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Of course, these birds also come with different habits as you may have noticed that plenty of birds don’t really behave in a similar way. The grackle is one of the more common birds that have their own unique habits and behaviors such as looking up all the time. But why do grackles actually look up?
Grackles look up because this is a practice called bill tilt, which is essentially done during courtship. The bill tilt is a way for the grackles to establish dominance among the same feeding group as the bird that is able to keep its bill tilted higher will earn the right to mate with a female.
Basically, the habit of looking up is actually a way for grackles to establish who is the more dominant male in the same feeding group. It technically is a way for them to showcase that they are “bigger” than other grackles as tilting the bill up and looking upward makes the bird look bigger than it actually is. So, it’s not really different from how other male animals try to win the right to mate with a female.
Why do grackles look up?
If you happen to own different pet birds or if you frequently watch birds either in the wild or in captivity, one of the things you would surely notice is that different species of birds tend to have different habits. In a sense, they do not only look different from one another in terms of their size, color, and shape but are also quite different in the way they behave.
One such bird that you may notice to have certain habits that may be different from other species of birds is the grackle. If you own one single grackle, this shouldn’t be something that you will actually notice. However, if you own plenty of grackles or if you observe grackles that are held in groups in captivity, you will notice one odd behavior that some of them may display.
In most grackle feeding groups, it is quite common for male grackles to actually look up in the sky as if there is something up there. And this isn’t something that one single grackle will do because this should be a habit that is also common to other male grackles that belong to the same feeding group. This may lead you to wonder what they are looking at above. However, the clue here is that none of them are looking at something.
So, if they are not looking at something, why are these grackles actually looking up?
For starters, they are not looking up but are actually tilting their bills. This is what is commonly referred to as the bill tilt among different people who own, study, or observe grackles in the wild or in captivity. And what you should know about the bill tilt is that this is a common mating behavior that male grackles do when it comes to courtship.
What is the purpose of the bill tilt?
Now that you know why grackles are looking up all the time, you might be wondering what purpose the bill tilt is supposed to serve. As mentioned, this is something that grackles do during courtship but why do they even do that at all whenever they want to mate with a female? It’s rather simple, actually. It is to win the right to court a female or to attract the female.
Like most other birds or animals, females that want to mate will only want to mate with a male that is able to establish its dominance over all of the other males. That’s because these animals are naturally drawn to the more dominant male in the hopes of the male siring offspring that are just as strong and as dominant as it is. It’s basically Darwinian natural selection wherein the females want to end up with the fittest so that their offspring will also become the fittest and will survive longer.
In a sense, this is where the bill tilt that grackles practice comes in. By looking up and tilting their bills as high as they can, these birds are able to essentially compete with one another to see which among them is the most dominant and is the most suitable to win the right to mate with a female. The reason is to establish who is the “bigger” bird as those who tilt their bills higher tend to look bigger than all of the other grackles in the same feeding group.
So, what happens here is that grackles will only do this if there is at least one female present and if there is another male in the same feeding group. Otherwise, there is no point in doing the bill tilt if there are no other males present since the lone male grackle will automatically be the one to mate with the female. However, if there are multiple males and there are only a few females around, the grackles will most likely compete with one another using the bill tilt ritual to determine who has the right to mate with the female.
As the males tilt their bills up, some males will eventually give up when they realize that they cannot hold or tilt their bills as high up as some of the other males do. This will happen gradually as males will drop out of the competition until only one male is remaining. The one remaining male grackle will be deemed the most dominant of the bunch and will win the right to mate with the female grackle in the same feeding group.
Once the pair of grackles have been established, the male will most likely stop doing the bill tilt because it has already won over the female. Grackles tend to pair for a lifetime just like how a lot of other birds do. That means that, if a male grackle has already paired up with a female, it is unlikely to participate in this ritual the next time around.
So, essentially, it is a peaceful kind of courtship where none of the grackles get hurt in the process of trying to win over a female grackle. However, it isn’t rare for grackles to actually wrestle or spar with one another from time to time instead of doing the bill tilt. Still, much of the trouble and physical injuries are avoided when the grackles participate in this mating ritual.
During the ritual, it also isn’t rare for grackles to do other things to establish dominance such as lifting their shoulders, spreading their wings, or swelling up their plumage. Again, the goal here is to look bigger and more dominant than the other male grackles in the group. But the most common is still the bill tilt.