The War Against Grackles

If you’ve been outside this summer you might have noticed that in the air, besides the bright Texas sun and sparse clouds, there is a winged presence that is rather pesky and sometimes aggressive. Ruth Pennebaker decided maybe, just maybe, it was time to fight back.

By Ruth PennebakerJune 23, 2017 1:17 pm

It was a lovely evening – warm and clear and peaceful. We were dining out with some good friends from California, sitting and talking on a patio next to live oak trees and Lady Bird Lake. A lovely evening – until the intruders showed up.

Now, I realize I’m supposed to love nature. I’m supposed to be at one with it. But when it comes to grackles, I am at two with nature, or maybe even three.

You know grackles – those ravenous black-feathered birds with the beady little eyes that hover around Austin restaurants and grocery store parking lots. They’re noisy, aggressive, rapacious, borderline evil.

I know that sounds a little judgmental, and I try to be a tolerant person.

But there they were, dive-bombing our table, tracking our every move. This wasn’t dinner. This was war.

“Can you do something about these birds?” I asked our waiter. He said he’d see what he could do.

Minutes later – several loud, harrowing, feathers-flying skirmishes later – the waiter came back. He had a water bottle with a squirter on top. “See if this helps,” he said.

I took a couple of practice shots. Wow. It had a nice range. I liked it.

So I sat there, forgetting dinner, forgetting conversation, forgetting relaxation. I had a job to do, and I took it seriously. Watching, always watching, hands clutching the bottle – darting here, darting there – squirting magnificent arcs of water, putting those nasty little feathered rodents on the run… on the fly. Whatever.

“You need to calm down a little,” my husband said. “Why don’t you eat something?” Oh, brother. He just didn’t understand.

It was at this point, with feathers flying [and] a little marital discord simmering, that someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned around. It was a man I’d never seen before, small and natty. He stretched out his hand and I shook it. “Madam,” he said, “I’ve been sitting inside, dining. It has given me such pleasure to watch you tonight.

“I’m a hunter, and I have to tell you, you have the soul and aim of a killer. Please, allow me to pay for your dinner.”

I tried to explain that I was actually a tolerant, live-and-let-live liberal, at one with nature, kind of… not a killer at all. But he’d already turned and left. In front of me, on our table was –

“Look at that!” my husband said. “A hundred-dollar bill!”

We finished, we paid, we left the table. Maybe I just imagined it – or were there really dozens of pairs of beady little eyes watching me leave, celebrating my departure? Didn’t they know I’d be back, and their thieving days were finished? Like that other black bird said, nevermore, grackles. Nevermore.

Ruth Pennebaker is an Austin-based writer. Her forthcoming book is based on a much-lamented transformation in the capital city, titled “High Rise Jamboree.”