Why do Common Grackles puff up?

I’ve taken photos of a bunch of Common Grackles, and every time I see a grackle puff up I always wonder why they do it. I’ve attached some photos showing the behavior.


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Many birds puff up during colder weather. The puffed up feathers insulate the bird and keep it warm. This behavior is known rousing.

Perhaps this is what the grackle is doing.

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Besides fluffing up to keep warm as mentioned above by @That_Bug_Guy , some birds puff up as part of courtship behavior.

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Not sure about common grackles, but there’s a lot of Great-tailed grackles in my area, and they puff up when it’s cold or right before stretching their necks out to let out a burst of sound.

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Example vids of various Grackle species doing a puff up and then vocalizing:

https://youtu.be/affnuhpVCLg
https://youtu.be/5jxaw97UJDo
https://youtu.be/yoZw8QEMWqI
https://youtu.be/t4ZMcFxoa8g

Now, whether that is part of courtship, community calls, a territorial display, or someone else, I couldn’t say.
It’s alsi possible they puff in other contexts and I just don’t notice or remember those scenarios due to some selective bias.

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The males certainly look more impressive when puffing up, whether that’s to impress a female or possibly intimidate a fellow male.

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The males puff when they’re about to sing. Puffing and tail fanning are common display behaviors for singing with Icterids. I love it, like they inflate with song. It also helps with tracking individual songs at a distance. Brown-headed cowbirds can puff a lot and take a few steps, often looking like they’re about to fall over.

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The red-winged blackbirds that visit my backyard do this a lot; very fun to watch!

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Birds puff for many reasons. Sometimes it’s for temperature control, sometimes it’s to look more impressive for one reason or another. Birds may also puff up all their feathers and shake, the same way any animal (including humans!) might stretch, shake, and re-settle. It’s just more dramatic in birds.

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I feel I often observed this behaviour in birds just before take off… Puffing, defacating and off they go.

… Also, sidenote… as a non native english speaker I wonder if “puffing up” is a real term used for this behaviour? So would an ornithologist talk like that? It sounds super cute🙂

I wondered the same thing the other day when I wanted to describe this behavior in a Common Grackle. A google search provided lots of sites using the term, although I don’t know if the level of terminology any of them were using was for ‘everyday folks’ vs ‘serious ornithologists’

You could use “pilomotor reflex” I believe, if erecting the feathers is in fact a reflex.

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