Austin: Grackle City USA

Other cities have pigeons. Austin has pigeons, too (wood doves), but our trash bird with pride of place is the Great-tailed Grackle (quiscalus mexicanus). The male is a blackbird with rainbow sheen, and a very long tail. Their song is made up of two sounds--one like a rusty gate, traveling up and down the scale, and the other a "chuck, chuck" single "caw."

The female is smaller, brown, with black wings and tail, no rainbows for her. Also not as vociferous.

Both are considered "trash birds," just as pigeons are. They are deafeningly noisy and nose-wrinkly messy. Huge clouds of them crowd trees, utility poles, wires, anything sturdy enough to hold them up. They love trash cans and garbage dumps. They steal food from the plate of any unsuspecting human who foolishly leaves their food unguarded on a restaurant patio table--which describes most Austin eateries.

The university had a huge sanitation problem with the birds, layers of guano on sidewalks, entry-ways, garbage cans, everywhere. Everyone on campus has been gifted with a plop on the head or shoulders at least once. Critter services couldn't shoot them, so they came up with a loud canon boom thingy that frightened them away. Some faculy/staff put fake owls on their windowsills. Interspersed with church bells, local places of worship broadcast tapes of raptor birds--owls, hawks, etc. in an attempt to keep them from settling. One misbegotten project experimented with covering enclosed spaces with netting. Try not to imagine the inevitable consequences--broken bird families, entangled feet/wings, the horror of it all.

On the other hand, between the squirrels and grackles, we don't have to worry about spilled or littered food. Each and every trash bin is a popular lunch spot for squirrels. They feature private dining, and an eclectic menu, with contributions from the numerous human eating-places. Sidewalks and roads are scooped clean by bird beaks. They remind me of the catfish (hypostomus plecostomus) that clean algae in aquaria.


Alice said...

Everybody gotta be someplace in the food chain, yes? How about the bats there on the (is it 6th Street)bridge. They're good for the touristers. We all have our place.

kokopelliwoman said...

Hi, Alice, you're absolutely right. We're all on the food chain somewhere. The bat colony is under the Congress St. bridge, but they're all over town. I saw a bunch up under a sign at one of the malls. Occasionally, we see dead ones on campus, and get the inevitable memo about rabies. I love to hear them flitting about just before dark, and watch their silhouettes against the last light.

I love your Mark Van Doren poem about birdsong (and life), too. :)

Joy Des Jardins said...

That picture reminds me of a scene out of Hitchcock's 'The Birds' Claudia.

joared said...

Oh those Grackles! Just have a really difficult time generating any positive feelings for them -- especially when they congregate and all talk at once.

Suzz said...

Annoying damn birds, but great bird web site. We have grackles here, too, and they are just as rude and noisy.

kokopelliwoman said...

Joy, I lived about 20 mi. from Bodega Bay in N. CA, where The Birds was filmed, for 7 years. I love that movie! They used starlings, which are just as numerous as grackles in Austin. The weight of hundreds of starlings on utility lines often resulted in loss of power. I had a neighbor who would periodically walk out in her yard and clap her hands really loudly to scare them off. Now I'm curious to learn whether starlings are related to grackles--they're both black birds with a rainbow sheen. Stay tuned!

kokopelliwoman said...

joared, do you have lots of starlings like they do in N. CA? I wrote a post somewhere about a couple of Australian birds--the sulfur-crested cockatoo and the lyrebird. The lyrebird is solitary, but the cockatoos fly in "mobs" and can strip all the fruit off a tree in two seconds flat! My favorite bird was another species of blackbird related to magpies--the currawong. It has a lovely, several octave liquid song. Their call is still with me--it is so musical.

kokopelliwoman said...

suzz, I love your description of grackles as "rude." They certainly are! And they don't go away :)
Do you have both the greater and the lesser grackles?

joared said...

I've not seen any starlings here in So. Cal. where I am. We used to have jillions of them in Central Ohio. We have crows though their numbers and other bird types i.e. mockingbirds diminished in number after the West Nile Virus invaded.

Flocks of sea gulls have ventured within a couple of miles from me -- am about an hours drive from the Pacific coast.

We were invaded by a large flock of very colorful and noisy parrots a year or so ago. They're usually closer in toward L.A. Much more beautiful than the ones that were in the news a few years ago in S.F. Think there was a movie of those and believe I had a link on one of my blog posts -- ah, the specifics of that memory escapes me now. Guess that means I've written too many posts. ;-)