I’ve been living in North Texas for a year and a half. In this time, I’ve delighted in checking dozens of Texas birds off of my life list. For most of the country, a Northern Cardinal is a backyard staple, but for a lifelong Californian, my first encounter with one was breathtaking. While there are dozens of Texas birds that are not found in California; Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, the animated Tufted Titmouse, one thing that surprised me is that the shape of birdwatching didn’t really change.
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In Texas as in California, each backyard has its woodpeckers, its chattering tits, its daring corvids, and its sleek black birds which hang around parking lots making all sorts of noise. In Northern California, that last role belongs, firmly, to the Brewer’s Blackbird. They are brave, noisy, neat little birds which congregate wherever crumbs are found. I’m fond of them.
Northern Texas is grackle territory. When I first saw the crowd of shiny black grackles in a DFW parking lot, they felt familiar. Blackbirds by any other name. But there is something unique about the Great-tailed Grackle which seems to evoke an intense response in people. Many Texans are fond of grackles, seeing them as loud, proud, and enormous personalities as true Texans should be. For the most part, though, the grackle is scorned.
If you haven’t spent much time around grackles, I can easily explain to you one of the main reasons for this. If you have, then you already know. Blackbirds are noisy, but grackles are on another level. Whistling, chattering, squawking, the noise of the grackle is joyous, grating, and completely unrestrained. It pierces the armor of rolled up car windows with impunity.
For readers who are sick of listening to the seemingly impossibly loud performance of grackles, you have my sympathy. But there is something about that dynamic that I can’t help but admire. Grackles stand in audacious contrast against the type of nature with which we’ve grown comfortable interacting. Against manicured lawns, gentle and unobtrusive birdsong, and paved city sidewalks, the grackle is anarchy. It is a rebellious envoy of a mother nature who does not stay between the lines or lower her voice on request. It awes me to see that wild ferocious world hopping along a sidewalk, picking at discarded potato chips.
We do not own the birds. That is what makes birdwatching fun. We must find them, coax them, disappear into the brush so as not to frighten them. From a distance, it is easy to forget that the animals in our own backyards are as much a part of nature, in all her feral glory, as a big cat or a gorilla. Grackles irritate people because they remind us that cities, suburbs, homes, and businesses are not some magical realm separate from nature. They are a part of nature, built directly on top of it. I find this reminder both beautiful and necessary. And also they are very very loud.
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