It’s been a while since I’ve written much about grackles or birds for that matter. Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve really done much blogging and in the intervening time, I’ve managed to forget to share some grackle-y goodness that came along earlier in the year.
First up, Eight Reasons Grackles Are Awesome, a Texas Monthly article from 2015. I’m proud to say that number eight “They’ve Inspired a poetry collection” is my book Birds Nobody Loves.
Next, a series of features on our local NPR affiliate KUT: A History of Austin’s Love-Hate Relationship with the Grackle which examines just that topic, and a two-part series of KUT’s ATXplained series that includes me reading from Birds Nobody Loves as reporter Mose Buchele delves into local grackle-lore: Part I: Why Do Grackles Flock to Grocery Store Parking Lots at Dusk and Part II: That Time UT Austin Waged a War on Grackles.
Around here, for many, grackles are a nuisance bird, but they’ve also become a bit of an unofficial mascot but without the PR that our bats get. Still, grackles are beautiful, fascinating birds and many of us couldn’t imagine Austin without them.
I don’t know what it is about long-legged waders that inspires me to write odd haibun, but here’s “The Cattle Egret” appearing in the ‘Animals in the City’ issue of qarrtsiluni.
Even cooler is sharing the day with Deb Scott and her beautiful work, and be sure to check out this one by Joseph Harker. Hell, just read the whole issue.
If you like egret haibun thing, I had another one published in qarrtsiluni back in 2011 and there’s one here too.
Thanks, Sherry and David for including this.
I and the Bird is up with an issue devoted to vultures:
The Cherokee nation called them “Peace Eagles” owing to the fact that they never killed a living thing – and also that they tended to show up in numbers after battles when peace treaties were being signed, though admittedly that may have been for a slightly more macabre reason. In any case, our hang-ups with vultures clearly stem from our own issues rather than any inherently bizarre trait of the species themselves.
It’s a great issue full of links to all kinds of vulture photos and posts including my video “While Sitting in Church,” which is based on one of the Birds Nobody Loves poems. Go pay a visit and learn more about our fascinating carrion-eating friends.
grackles rise and fall
leaves in the wild slipstream
a squirrel’s wet fur
Three bites taken on the run, two soggy feathers
float from his mouth, no sign left of any bird.
I call animal emergency:
Yuck, but your dog will be fine.
It’s what he’s made to do.
I call another vet just to be sure.
First, Ewww. But I am told the same.
It’s what he’s made to do.
My friends weigh in:
What’s one less grackle?
I hate those filthy birds.
Thank goodness. Grackles are awful.
Now, each morning I fill the feeders
as I’ve always done, and Joey follows
as he always has, but something’s new:
in the way he watches me pour the seed,
he admires how the trapper baits his traps.
This is from my poetry collection, Birds Nobody Loves, and was first published along with “North through Fog” in the February 2011 edition of The Houston Literary Review, which has, alas, disappeared from the ‘net without a trace.
It’s one of those poems that, unfortunately for the grackle, qualifies as nonfiction.
Birds Nobody Loves is on sale (15% off) through the holidays on Amazon and through my e-store and could make a great gift for the poetry or bird lover on your shopping list.
And, if you’ve already purchased a copy now or earlier, my sincerest thanks.
one chickadee didn’t fledge
I bury him in his nest
the chickadee sits
on her nestlings, each breath
a feather’s tremble
I think I’ll be posting my small stones here for NaPoWriMo and maybe past that. I’m not sure I want to keep maintaining two blogs. We’ll see.
Last night I noticed a mourning dove sitting in one of the planters hanging from the back porch. I could just see her head poking above the woven fabric of the basket, which has been empty since last summer’s drought killed the plants that were there. Now it’s just a small shelf of dirt and, it seems, a nice place for a dove to roost.
This morning, the dove was gone but I wanted to see if there was any kind of nest in it and so I got up on tiptoes, looked in and was surprised to see a single white egg. By the time I left for work, she was back, hunkered low, feathers fluffed against the early chill.
According to Birds of Texas, mourning doves lay two eggs that incubate for 12-14 days. The fledglings leave the nest 12-14 days after that. Assuming of course they make it. Since I haven’t been putting out seed, the squirrels, blue jays and grackles aren’t coming around as much so hopefully this dove will have a chance.
As soon as I saw the egg, I found myself thinking about how to protect it from nest predators, but then I remembered that dove knows what she’s doing better than I do. Still, I really hope we get to see some young doves fledge into the world rather than the redder side of nature.
When I got home, there was a second egg, and I got the above picture (click to see higher-res) of the male. I was amazed by his coloring (the blue patch on his crown marks him as the male). I had no idea they were so colorful. I’ve seen so many mourning doves that I guess over the years I’ve stopped really seeing them. Usually they’re farther away too and so while I’ve watched them, I realize that this is the first time I’ve gotten a really good look at one. Stunning. Once again, I’m reminded that the most astonishing things in the world are often the things we see every day and thus stop noticing.
“You just have to pay attention,” my wife says as she’s watching me type this.
The grackles returned as is their wont around the first of the month. They spread out this time of year thus I only have five or six come around so the mockingbirds and blue jays still get their shot at the suet feeders.
I haven’t been filling the platform feeder as regularly as in the past. Too many mammals coming around and with a little boy, I’m inclined to keep it that way for a while. So it’s just suet and finch feeders for the most part, which the mammals don’t go for. And, with fewer doves hogging the yard, I’m seeing more mockingbirds and cardinals come around.
There’s also a nest in the nest box by the porch. I saw a chickadee hanging around the other morning and the nest doesn’t look like a wren’s nest, which is what I usually find in the nest box, so I’m hoping we’ll see some chickadees unless I scared them away when I opened the box to check it unaware that there would actually be anything in it (it hasn’t been used since 2009).
I didn’t do Project FeederWatch this year, but the usual winter suspects came around: ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warbler, chipping sparrow and orange-crowned warbler. No American goldfinches this year, but the lesser goldfinches are here as always.
So spring is springing and the birds are coming around singing and each day there seems to be something new to show my son as we stand out on the porch listening to birds, though his favorite activities are waving at the dogs and laughing at the wind chimes. Through him, I’m seeing new wonders everywhere. The world is chock full of them.