In the fall and winter, at dusk and into the night, the trees and utility wires of San Antonio are covered in birds. Squawking, raucous, big black birds, straight from a Hitchcock movie. They are Quiscalus Mexicanus, called el Zanate in Mexico, where they originate. In Texas, we call them grackles. Some call them devil birds.
If you’re having dinner on the Riverwalk they’ll steal your tortilla chips. They poop on your car and leave vast seas of guano on the sidewalks. They are loud. Some of their calls sound like a rusty door hinge, others like radio static, or fingernails on a chalkboard. When there are a thousand of them perched in the trees overhead it is deafening.
Centro San Antonio has, over the years, tried many ways of getting rid of the grackles. You may see plastic predators — owls and snakes — perched in trees and on window ledges. They’ve tried small explosions, and recordings of the sounds of predators and of dying grackles. At one point, the city hired a falconer to aim his grackle-eating hawks at the pesky birds. The latest technique is laser lights — like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber — which seems to disrupt their perch and encourages them to fly elsewhere, somewhere without tourists. Somewhere like our neighborhoods.
The poet Ogden Nash wrote a poem about Grackles:
The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
He bullies more attractive birds
With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
And should a human interfere,
Attacks that human in the rear.
I cannot help but deem the grackle
An ornithological debacle.
Do not be afraid. They are just birds, right?