Can you bring to your mind the sound of the New Year’s Eve ratchet-like noisemaker? You hold the handle and spin it around to make an annoying sound. That is one of the first new sounds I heard after moving to San Antonio. I also heard a long, loud whistle; a sound like static on a radio; and the sound of crumbling aluminum foil or breaking glass. I found out that these often-earsplitting sounds and more emanated from the same source, a grackle.
Coming from the Midwest U.S., this was new to me. Swarms of them descend on our lawn in King William in the mornings for a short while and then lift off together to forage for food farther from the city. Then in the evenings, back they come for a short stay before going to roost downtown. I was fascinated. I learned there are common grackles, great tailed and boat tailed. The males were impressive with their size and a purple-blue iridescence. The females are smaller, duller and have a lighter brown underbelly. Their eyes are yellow.
In checking some facts on the internet, I discovered that I am among the minority of folk who like these birds as most people consider them total pests. Some describe them as ugly. I think they are grand. When we moved my elderly father here from the Chicago area, he would sit on the front porch and enjoy observing them. Our out of town guests were amazed. We often heard the grackles flying back to downtown around five in the evening and we dubbed that the “Grackle Hour.” It was time to break out the cocktails.
Several winters ago, a flock of the birds chose to roost in the bamboo grove behind our house. I could hear their wings flapping as they settled in for the night. We seemed to share the same bedtime as they finally quieted down about the time our heads hit our pillows. As daylight neared, the leader would make a screech and then a few others joined in until they were all making a racket. Then all at once, they lifted off and left for the day, allowing us a little more shuteye before the other birds started singing. As much as I admire them, I am pleased that in the following winters they found a different overnight roost.
For a couple of years now, a one-legged male grackle nests near us. He has discovered the Cannoli water bowl that we keep filled with fresh water in front of our house. He has a very distinctive hop. He shares the water with dogs, cats, squirrels, birds and, I suppose, lizards, etc. I haven’t been able to get a photo of him yet but will keep trying. I learned that grackles can have a lifespan of 20 years, but most don’t make it that long. I hope to see him for years to come.
- Nora Peterson