The Dawn Crier

Boat-tailed grackle ~ Aransas National Wildlife Refuge


“The Town Crier Calls at Dawn to Announce the Feast” ~ Pueblo ritual chant

All people awake, open your eyes, arise;
Become children of light, vigorous, active, sprightly.
Hasten clouds from the four world quarters;
Come snow in plenty, that water may be abundant when summer comes;
Come ice, cover the fields, that the planting may yield abundance;
Let all hearts be glad!
The knowing ones will assemble in four days;
They will encircle the village dancing and singing songs
That moisture may come in abundance.


Comments always are welcome. The chant above comes from The Path on the Rainbow: An Anthology of Songs and Chants from the Indians of North America, ed. George W. Cronyn (1918).


32 thoughts on “The Dawn Crier

    1. He certainly could be. These birds are loud and enthusiastic, although they’re willing to let the roosters take the very early morning shift!

  1. I love boat-tailed grackles too. Their shimmer always enticing against the wetland colors. Nuisance to some but so beautiful…..yeah, and loud!! Love the mood of this good morning shot.

    Chant is excellent and makes one feel at peace with things.


    1. This same day, I found one of these birds in just the right light to show off the iridescent blues and purples of its feathers, but I was so taken with this little loudmouth, I told the pretty boy to wait his turn.
      Finding the chant affirmed the decision, and I spent quite a bit of time browsing through the contents of Cronyn’s anthology. Chants and birdsong do seem the best way to greet the day. The ‘news’ can wait.

    1. I especially enjoy their rusty-screen-door-like screechings, but they seem to reserve those for the times when they’re trying to impress a female. This one seemed to be just letting us know he was around.

      I should have linked to that online text of Cronyn’s book. I have a hard copy that a friend sent to me years ago, but I found the online source while looking for information about Cronyn himself. The introduction is especially interesting, especially in what it has to say (or implies) about the differences between spoken and written poetry.

      Speaking of old books, it was Neltje Blanchan’s entry on flax that reminded me of Longfellow’s “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and the blue-eyed child. I’ve really enjoyed that book — thanks for the recommendation.

    1. They sure are everywhere — and now they’re starting to trail young ‘uns behind them. I laughed and laughed at the antics over at Lakewood today. There’s nothing funnier than watching a grackle parent try to get a youngster to feed itself. Those young birds are the avian version of the thirty-year old still living in the parents’ basement.

  2. Is this a rain chant?? Seriously, with all the rain we’ve ALL been having this spring?! The grackle might be one of my least favorite birds — it’s noisy and quarrelsome, ushering the other birds away from the feeders (though I must admit its blue feathers have a nice sheen in the sunlight!)

    1. I hate to tell you, but… we could use some rain. Would you like to send some of yours down here? An inch or three would be lovely, but we certainly don’t need that terrible flooding going on up in your area. I feel so badly for the farmers — not to mention the people affected by the tornadoes.

      My sense of things is that the Pueblo chant isn’t focused on rain as much as on snow. Where they lived, in the southwestern desert areas, they depended on snow pack to provide water in the summer. But apart from that, my favorite line might be, “Become children of light, vigorous, active, sprightly.” What a great invitation that is for the morning hours!

    1. And when those males start to strut, they can be nearly as impressive as your neighborhood peacocks. Granted, their feathers aren’t as colorful, but they certain can shake a tail feather!

  3. We jokingly call them “HEB birds”. because sometimes they appear in masses at our local H.E.B. supermarket. ;)

    1. You’re not alone. Steve Schwartzman’s mentioned the same phenomenon, and when they descend on my HEB, it’s a wonder to behold. They’ll line the roof, the wires, the luggage racks on cars, the grocery carts… There can be thousands and thousands of them. I love watching people standing around watching the birds.

    1. They’re very intelligent — perhaps even as intelligent as crows. Now that their babies are hatching, I’ve been watching an interesting phenomenon. There are a lot of tiny fish around right now — menhaden, or shad. I didn’t realize grackles would eat them, but they do. They feed them to their babies, too, but before they fly to the nest, they’ll find a hose bib that’s dripping, and dip the fish in the water first. They’re not only taking food to the nest, they’re taking food and water.

    1. I suspect (though I don’t know for certain) that the name resulted from a comparison between that long tail, especially when spread, and the fantail of a boat. Since it used to be considered the same species as the great grackle, the taxonomists may just have needed a name.

      Given what time you have to get up now to see the dawn, I can imagine less than hoped for conditions could be disappointing. Out of curiosity, I checked sunrise times for Amerst and Galveston — you’re a full hour ahead of us. That’s early!

      1. I was remarking about the shape of the tail too.

        The earliest I’v e had to get up for sunrise was at Acadia N.P. to be atop Cadillac Mountain. It rises there, in Mid-June around 4:40 at ocean level, probably 15 or 20 minutes before that on the mountain (it’s been a few years so I don’t remember exactly). Breakfast and a 20 minute or so ride up the switchbacks meant getting up before 3. Maybe that’s why we go in Autumn now.

    1. Sometimes the path to the match is circuitous. I know a boat named Dawn Treader, and it came to mind when I saw this bird. The boat’s name transformed into ‘dawn crier,’ and when I did an internet search for that phrase, I found the Puebloan song. I love the saucy bird, and the wonderfully positive chant. Who wouldn’t want to greet the morning with either of them?

  4. I was hoping the bird was related to the common crow here in Australia but I could not find that correlation. We have black crows next door because as a result of our neighbour’s dogs being fed meaty bones. The crows will pick over the remnants on the bones even to the extend they will fly away carrying them and sometimes dropping them off on our side of the garden.
    They make quite a racket too. At times they sit on a branch of our tree and look inside through the window perhaps wondering what we are up to.
    Boat tailed Grackle. What’s in a name?

    1. No, they’re different species, but they certainly have similar characteristics. Both are smart, a little raucous, willing to hang around humans, and generally entertaining. I think the birds my grandmother used to call rain ravens actually were crows. She taught me to watch their behavior to predict rain, and they were pretty dependable. Unfortunately, West Nile virus has thinned their numbers here, but they’re still around.

      Your comment about the bone-toting crows reminded me of this, from the Cornell birding site:

      ‘Crows and all members of the family Corvidae will store excess food. Sometimes you can see crows bury things in the grass of the yard (usually covering it up with a leaf or plucked grass; sometimes looking at it several times and using a number of different coverings before being satisfied that it really is hidden). They also hide food in trees or rain gutters, or whatever is a handy spot.”

      Maybe your yard is functioning as a handy “pantry.”

  5. I love the Grackle too. This is the time of year to get out of bed at first light and go outside to hear the birds welcome in the new day.

    1. I confess I’m glad my mockingbird finally found himself a girlfriend. His 3 a.m. singing was getting to be a bit much! But I agree with you about the pleasures of that dawn chorus. It’s peaceful, and pleasant, and somehow reassuring.

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