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CYC-Online Issue 137 JULY 2010 / BACK
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TRUTHS AND HALF TRUTHS

For the birds

Nils Ling

I have a problem with grackles on my back deck.

I know what some of you are saying: “You have what where?”

But others “especially experienced birders, are nodding sagely and saying “Yes, grackles can be a nuisance.”

Mine are.

Well, I say they aremygrackles, because currently they are being a nuisance to me. I would be much happier if they wereyourgrackles, or grackles that belonged to a giant bloodsucking corporation.

And I say they are “grackles” just because someone said that’s what they looked like. They’re medium sized, black, ugly, and bad-tempered, and “grackle” seems as good a name as any for them since “grackle” just sounds unattractive and mean.

(Hey, if I told you my third grade teacher was Miss Grackle, wouldn’t you have an image of her as an older, sharp-faced woman with her hair tied back in a tight bun and who makes you spit out your gum and gives you a detention just because you leaned over to whisper something to Candy Kaiser, who was the cutest girl in class for twelve years running, and I wonder whatever happened to her?)

(Candy, I mean. There was no Miss Grackle. We had Miss Euell. But she should have been Miss Grackle, and that’s the whole point.)

No, wait. That wasn’t the point at all. The point is, if there are experienced birders out there who want to write me and say: “Idiot. Those aren’t grackles. Those are Gehringer’s Blackfinches. You can tell because their beaks are slightly shorter and they have four toes instead of three,” you can save the time it would take you to write. Although if you know that much about birds, you obviously have more than your share of spare time. But I’m still going to call these things grackles.

Anyway, my grackle problem started this past week. In May, I found a sale on bird feeders. I then went down the bird seed aisle and chose a brand of seed that clearly said, right on the package: “Attracts Finches, Grosbeaks, Dark-eyed Juncos, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and other attractive songbirds and baseball players”.

Nowhere does it say: “... and also, sadly, Grackles.”

For the first few weeks that we had the feeders, things went fine. I’d look out and see sparrows and chickadees flit up, perch on one of the feeding posts, and delicately help themselves to a seed or two before flitting off. Occasionally, a blue jay would zip in for a snack. No cardinals, but there was a small kind of reddish-orange finch-y type of bird that dropped by for a couple of days.

(Experienced birders: “Oh, that would be a Thompson's Mamgret.” Me: “Shh. I’m talking here. Come back when you can say “I just saw a bush tit” without giggling and blushing.”)

The point was, the birds that were coming in were all pleasant birds who seemed to get along well. Oh, blue jays are bullies, but they never stay for very long “just zip in for a quick snack and off they go.

Then, this week, came the grackles.

Grackles are the proverbial flying pigs. They’re ill-tempered, loudly driving off any other bird at the feeder. Then they’ll pounce on the birdfeeder, almost tipping it over because they’re so fat, and start flipping the birdseed around, looking for sunflower seeds. It’s like that annoying fat cousin you had who pushed you out of the way and started pawing through all the ju jubes in the candy dish, only taking the red ones.

A grackle will sit at a bird feeder until it has scattered every small seed onto the ground and gorged itself on the sunflower seeds. Then it will look at you, cock its head, and you can almost hear it say: “More sunflower seeds, my good fellow. This feeder is empty. And could you sweep up around here? It’s killing my appetite.”

My wife, who is more bloodthirsty than I, wants me to drive them off with a pellet gun. I prefer to let nature take its course, and sic the cats on the grackles. Of course, cats are fairly non-discerning when it comes to birds, so they keep the others away, too. And cats are prone to boredom “after a while they’ll go off in search of a field mouse to play tetherball with.

So for now, I’m stuck with my grackles.

Tomorrow I’m going down to the bird food store and I’m going to look for a bag that clearly says “Repels Grackles”. If they don’t have such a thing, I may just get a pellet gun. I don’t want to kill them “just make their stay unpleasant.

Hey, it worked on my cousin. He still won’t come to visit. Which is fine by me. I like red ju jubes.

This feature: From Nils Ling’s book Truths and Half Truths. A collection of some of his most memorable and hilarious columns.

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