In the Grackles’ Defense

Here’s a story in USA Today from earlier this year about how horrible great-tailed grackles are. Anyone in Austin knows exactly what these birds look and sound like, since we see dozens of them each day. At dusk, they cover the overhead telephone wires so thoroughly that I often wonder how the wires don’t bow or even buckle under so much weight.

But as to the list of maladies that the grackles inflict upon the city, it’s actually very similar to the one that could be lobbed at humans by all other species on the planet. If I described a species to you and said that it is “highly adaptive,” and “colonizing the country,” and that its members “tend to congregate in large flocks and like shopping centers and fast-food store parking lots,” and are “also known for their annoying, almost mechanical call,” who would you initially think I was talking about?

Apart from our calls (mostly from cell phones while driving), I can think of tons of things about humans that would best be described as both annoying and mechanical. I’m not so much defending the grackle (although I admit I think they’re amazing, highly intelligent and skilled animals; you can actually watch them problem-solve) as wondering why, when any other species does what we do, i.e. colonize, overpopulate, deplete resources, shit on everything, and so on, they’re labeled “invasive”—or worse. Conversely, when we spout oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing untold numbers of living beings (and poisoning the rest), it’s called “doing business.”

Here’s a very telling segment of the story:

Great-tailed grackles have managed this because they’re desert-dwelling generalists that adapt easily to new situations. They’re fond of irrigated farmland, which has increased exponentially in the past 50 years. “They need water, trees and grain, and that’s the new West,” Clark said.

Another thing that’s propelled their expansion is the growth of cattle feedlots across the West and Midwest, where grackles like to congregate in the winter to gorge on grain, said Mike Bodenchuk, director of the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services office in San Antonio.

So, let me get this straight. Grackles have adapted to the environments humans have created. Where humans go—and create deserts via mega mono-cropped agriculture, factory farms, and other destruction—the grackles follow, filling an ecological niche. Seems to me like the solution if one wants less grackles is to have less human-made environments, and so the answer, as is my answer for almost any problem, is the gradual reduction of our population by peaceful and rational choice and the hasty withdrawal of our encroaching structures, especially suburbia. There are also other answers.

“They’re an unstoppable machine,” said Alan Clark, a bird biologist at Fordham University in New York City, as quoted in the article. Wouldn’t every other species on the planet say the same about us?



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