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May 2000
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Grackle Wars

I am, as some of my readers are (to their dismay) aware, currently resident in my mother's home whilst she whiles away the time in a nursing home. My mother is, among other things, a bird lover and ornithologist. The family residence is surrounded by bird houses and bird feeders and large quantities of birds, some of which I can actually recognize by variety.

When I was but a youngling I did my share of bird watching. There are but few birds in the caverns in which I plied my trade as a computer maven. I suppose there must have been some, somewhere. Everything happens somewhere. Still, a computer room is not a happy place for a bird. I suppose they could feed on the crumbs from twinkies and the other varieties of packaged eating materials (one really doesn't want to stretch the word "food" too far) that programmers consume. I would imagine that there is a shortage of nesting materials, twigs and leaves being in short supply, although they might be able to press into service the output of paper shredders.

There are difficulties, though, for the cyberphile bird. Access to the caverns is a problem. Birds, though quite charming if you do not examine their feeding habits, are not the brightest creatures in the world. They regularly fly into windows and seemingly are slow to learn from the experience. Flying through a door at the moment it is open is a trick that they master only by accident. Nor is it a happy environment. The programmer is by nature a nocturnal creature not unlike (tip of the hat to George Orwell) the vampire bat; your average small bird is not. While it is common for programmers to ignore the occasional cockroach and small rodent (they are, after all, his intellectual peers) I imagine that they would take strong exception to bird droppings on their keyboards and perhaps on their person - despite folklore to the contrary many programmers do bathe.

Be that as it may I spent decades in the pursuit of the errant bit during which time affairs avian were quite a matter of indifference to me. Birds were feathered things that raided the blueberry bushes and that was that. In recent times, however, with my restoration to the ancestral home (a misnomer - this house was designed by my mother, a woman of parts; the ancestral home, another little house on the prairie, is long gone) I have acquired an obligation to become part of her ornithological support group.

In particular this includes keeping the bird feeders filled which brings us to the subject of grackles. For those of my readers for whom the world of birds is divided into short tailed sparrows, long tailed sparrows, chickens and ducks a word of explanation is in order. A grackle is a black bird about the size of a robin. It is a common city pest second only to the pigeon. It is not an endearing bird. It is a bully. It feeds upon the contents of the nests of smaller birds. And it is not particularly pretty.

Grackles have discovered the bird feeders.

For those innocent of knowledge of bird feeders (ignorance is bliss) the ones you purchase are a transparent tube with holes in them with little stands whereupon the birdies may perch as they feed, said holes and perches being distributed up and down the tube. They may also have a disk at the bottom where the birdies can also stand.

One can, I apprehend, spend quite a bit of money on a solidly constructed feeder complete with features which the birds are quite indifferent to but which justify the vendor of feeders asking for outrageous sums of money. Your basic inexpensive bird feeder, however, consists of ramshackle bits of plastic which snap together.

As I say grackles have discovered the bird feeders. Grackles are very agressive in their feeding habits. They are also somewhat heavier than the finches and sparrows. They have discovered that they can dislodge the bits of snap-in plastic that serve both as seed dispensers and perches. From their viewpoint this is advantageous - the bird seed pours out. Yours truly is not so happy with their discovery.

Since the grackles have discovered that the span-in perches can be made to snap out I have endeavoured to emplace them more securely. At first I took recourse to the handyman's secret weapon - duct tape. I quickly discovered that grackles are more than a match for duct tape. More seed was spilled on the ground.

My fighting spirit was aroused. No bird brain is going to get the better of me, I vowed. This time I was going to wire the little plastic snap-ins into place and so I did. That will fix them, I thought.

Wrong.

A grackle managed to break one of the little plastic thingies in two. More seed spilled on the ground. I replaced the broken thingie with one which offered less of a vantage point for destruction.

This worked well enough for a day and then I looked upon the feeders of a morning and saw that once again I had been foiled. The grackles had managed to unsnap the base plate which was now laying on the ground. The contents of the feeder were long gone, having been consumed by greedy grackles.

I swore vengeance. I am a human being, a member of the species that is, according to its own advertising, the pride of creation. I was not going to let creatures with brains no larger than an outsized pea outwit me. I had to admit, however, that the score stood:

Grackles 1, Richard 0

I mentioned my problems to my mother, being careful to specify that I was having problems with HER grackles. She took a rather malicious and entirely unnecessary delight in my difficulties. However she had a solution. Put out the fortress.

The fortress - my term, not hers - is a marvel. It is square, not round, and it has a metal grillwork around it that is open enough to admit goldfinches (lovely little birds, goldfinches) but not grackles. She assures me that it is grackle proof. I believe her.

After all, a boy should always listen to his mother.


This page was last updated May 5, 2000.

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