Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Five:
Case File No. 45-253
This work is supported by the generous backers who adore my cat stories at Patreon.com/amberunmasked and they also get first access to what’s happening with my books and podcast.
Where We Left Off:
The Winchester-Nabu Detective residence is showing violent signs of an evil spectral entity.
Quigley Down Under (the Trees):
It’s often bothered me that humans have decided grackles are pests. I think they’re beautiful. Plus seeing large flocks is a spectacle to see and hear. This required research. Why are grackles a problem to so many people?
One thing that may not be obvious when gazing upon a huge mass of birds is that it can be multiple species. Grackles will flock with other blackbirds. Apparently that’s annoying to people. I’ve never seen them in areas where people want to walk or sit, not like pigeons or geese who poop all over sidewalks.
The families of blackbirds are the most abundant bird types on the continent. These birds form flocks where one can see thousands of different types of mixed blackbirds as they gather in the Spring and Fall migrations. Although there is an abundance of blackbirds, they are shy of humans and will try and avoid any close contact. https://www.birds-of-north-america.net/blackbirds.html
Another thing I had to figure out was how to spot the difference between a European starling and Common grackles. Starlings have speckles. Grackles have piercing gold eyes. If you’re at a distance and they’re in the shade, you might not be able to see the differences. It should be more concerning that the grackle population, like so many birds and mammals, is on the decline; but due to their high numbers, no one seems to care yet.
Last week, Gus, Oliver, and I enjoyed plenty of fresh air. We navigated around to distribute peanuts to the birds. I don’t know why, but this year the Blue Jay Gang is meaner than ever. Normally, these birds with a terrible reputation for being aggressive, have been rather polite here. Maybe it’s because earlier they appreciated any peanuts they could get and now, they simply expect it. And they’ve called dibs. The blue jays have actively collided with each other and chased off other birds in order to get the peanuts. Now, knowing this was their reputation, I was still annoyed to see that our backyard birds had changed.
On Tuesday, we took advantage of the extremely rare perfect weather. I noticed a flying blur that looked black, but I couldn’t be sure about what I saw. Maybe it was a blue jay that my eyes didn’t see accurately. We know eyewitnesses are unreliable. I was the witness in this instance. The bird went into the woods where I couldn’t get a better look at that time.
Gus and I walked while I pushed Oliver in his carriage. The burrows in the ground have made pushing the buggy extremely difficult. I’m lucky that Gus was well-behaved and stayed near me when I needed him to and stayed in a safe place when I took Oliver home.
After dropping Ollie off, I went back to the northern border of the woods to meet up with Gus. We casually walked over to Fort Winchester. Without missing a beat, Gus slowly walked around the structure in order to get to the ladder which he finds easier to ascend than the faux rock-climbing wall. I think he should try the other side more. With his feet wet from the melting snow and mud, he’s been slipping by the time he gets to the top rung of the ladder. Since I trained Gus to get into the top levels of the fort by using treats to encourage him up and gradually went from lifting him most of the way to bigger increments, he now expects treats every time he goes to the fort. Gus always wants treats. He gets rapacious at the “deck” level of the fort if I don’t get the snacks out fast enough.
Snack time done and Gus inside the fort taking a break, I walked around the fort and noticed a solo bird rustling the wet dead leaves at the border. I was too far to get a great look at it so I lifted my camera to my eye and used the zoom lens to peer at the subject. I saw that it was definitely not a blue jay. It was black and when the sun glinted off it, I could see the iridescence of turquoise shimmering on the feathers. The photos aren’t great because I was too far away. I watched the bird grab leaves in his beak and toss them. He was searching for something. Scoop and toss. Scoop and toss.
I checked on Gus to make sure he was still content inside the fort before I tried going back to step closer to the bird. Every one of my steps, the grackle moved several feet further away. It continued to search as it retreated. I felt bad. I wanted to offer it peanuts assuming the blue jays took all of them. I’m well aware of how badly I throw. I used that to my advantage and threw a peanut that would only reach the first spot where I saw the grackle. It only took a minute before the bird got too frightened of this clumsy human throwing small projectiles in his direction. He flew low to the ground and went into the woods.
As soon as Gus was ready to leave the fort, I was hoping we would go straight home. I hadn’t eaten all day since my morning McVities digestives and coffee. Gus hadn’t eaten anything besides the treats I fed him. He surprised me by wanting to check things out before going directly home for lunch. He went to the border and activated his Super Smeller to pick up details about the grackle.
Subject: Quigley Quiscula
Gus and I returned home with my photos and video and his data. We had lunch followed by a meeting with Oliver before they needed afternoon naps.
“Do you think Quigley could have been anting?” Oliver asked me.
“What is anting?”
“Some birds cover themselves in ants. No one knows why, but it might be so that the ants eat mites irritating the birds. It’s a peculiar behavior,” Oliver replied.
I had no idea about anting nor did I have any idea if that’s what the grackle was doing. I replayed the video. The subject was not specifically at an anthill.
“Looks like he lost something,” Gus said. “Remember when you were looking for tape the other day?” He directed that to me.
“And you ended up cleaning out an entire closet. Maybe this Quigley is just looking for something important,” Gus said.
It did make sense. That important thing could be food or an object. Would it dig around under leaves like that for nesting material? It sounded unlikely, but it’s almost and nests need to be made.
The subject was identified by Gus as Quigley Quiscula, a local migrating male grackle. Acting as a unified BAU (behavioral analysis unit), the Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency believe the bird is searching for something important. We have not been able to determine whether the missing item is food or not.
Case Status: Open
Consider donating to Team Rubicon, an organization that utilizes the skills of veterans, medical teams, and emergency responders to deliver aid. They currently have a presence in multiple cities trying to help the people of Ukraine.