By Dave McBride
Whenever one travels in the Riviera Maya, one will inevitably meet a native whose mission is to (with guile and aggression) turn a tourist encounter to personal profit. Sometimes the light-fingered grifter is a time-share agent. Sometimes it is a Great-tailed Grackle.
The Great-tailed Grackle (aka Mexican Grackle) is the larger cousin of the gang of Boat-tailed Grackles in my Florida backyard, who flock together to put on a morning zoo show just before dawn, talking over each other with more raucous chatter than a Fox News expert panel.
The Mayan natives call the grackle X’kau, or the Mexican Crow, although it is not a member of the crow family. These onyx opportunists disperse at dawn to commute to work either as lone bandits or in an organized gang of marauders. Native to wetlands and forests, in recent years they have discovered the tourist towns and resorts of the Yucatan far easier places to make a living, swooping and swiping the tater tot right off the breakfast tray on your hotel balcony.
One will fix its steely yellow eyes on the remains of your taco till your attention is distracted and its amigos strike. You know the stare the raptors in the Jurassic movies focus on their victims? That’s the grackle stare. Their predation is why resorts seldom set up buffets outdoors. But their commitment to the pack-hunting brotherhood is falsehearted and fleeting because of the grackle’s fundamental selfishness. A gang member will fly to the brother who scored a prize as if intending to share a chest bump, and instead snatch the tortilla fragment out of the sucker’s mouth. Their memories are so short both return to being BFFs planning a new raid within thirty seconds.
A Mexican fable alleges that in the creation the Zanate (another name for the grackle) had no voice. So it stole sevens songs from the sea turtle, expressing the passions of love and hate, fear and courage, joy and sadness and anger. It is said all of these emotions can be heard in the chorus of grackle noise when they gather to gossip like tweens at an American-Girl-themed sleepover.
Many consider them bothersome pests and plain, compared to their colorful avian amigos. But the males reflect a satiny purple and green iridescence in their inky-black feathers and they demonstrate an engaging cunning and cleverness. It’s my observation they cackle cheerfully at the audacity of their own escapades and high five their cohorts with congratulatory whistles and snickers. I like this bird and enjoy its fellowship despite its annoying supremacy in any battle of wits.
Veteran Newsman Dave McBride is an award-winning news radio reporter, anchor and program director and creator of fan-favorite Dave’s Raves. Dave has received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Writing for Radio/Large Market and the 2010 and 2011 Murrow for continuing news coverage. He was awarded the New York Festivals World Gold Medal for Best Writing for Radio. In his first year in Florida he received the Florida AP award for Best Long Light Feature in both first and second place. Dave is currently based in South Florida.