By Robin Jean Marie Conte
I have a bit of a summertime routine. Each morning, as the humidity ripens and before it becomes oppressive, I go outside to my deck, drink a cup of coffee, wait for the Internet to connect, drink a cup of coffee, wait for my email to update, drink a cup of coffee, try to think of something to write, drink another cup of coffee, and thus ease into my day, all the while serenaded by a cacophony of tweets and trills from the backyard birds in my backyard aviary and distracted by their flights of color.
They charm me.
I had outwitted the squirrels and chipmunks that used to shimmy over the hanging rod and squeeze inside the feeder. Once I changed the feeder and the seed, those pesky varmints were dining elsewhere. Since then, birds have gathered at my feeder like commuters at a Starbucks.
I have been getting house finches and goldfinches, chickadees and towhees. Sometimes I even get bluebirds and, as we all know, bluebirds are special. Their indigo blue and cherry red colors punctuated in white and black inspire me to think of them as God’s winged rainbows, sent to me as a fluttering promise that everything will be OK.
The birds were happy, I was happy, life was grand. And then…and then everything went terribly wrong.
I dashed to the wild bird store and started to explain:
“I was getting all kinds of songbirds—finches and cardinals, and even bluebirds, and then…”
“….and then the grackles came.” As he finished the sentence for me, I could hear ominous music swell up in the background.
If you have a birdfeeder, you know about grackles. If you don’t, I will tell you: They are large, beady-eyed, sinister-looking birds the color of old motor oil that travel in swarms and look as if, at any minute, they will perch on my deck railings and start cackling, “Nevermore.”
I don’t like them one bit.
Not only do they creep the daylights out of me, but they frighten away my pretty birds and devour my birdseed faster than it takes to say “Poe.” Plus, they make a mess and they don’t clean up after themselves, so they’re kind of like flying teenagers.
I wanted God’s winged rainbows back, not God’s winged delinquents. Birdseed Man said the best thing to do was to remove the seed until the dreaded grackles went away.
So I removed the seed, and the grackles would squawk and crow and swoop by and leave their droppings all over my outdoor furniture in revenge, while my timid songbirds would hop around in forlorn curiosity, wondering what happened to their free lunch.
Finally, after the grackles tired of their retaliatory bombings and moved along, I would put out the birdfeeder and the lovely red and purple and gold finches would return to charm me until the word spread through the grackle grapevine, and they’d be back again, in droves.
I finally appealed to the Internet and discovered an entire community of bird-loving bloggers who were posting helpful suggestions under the headings, “bully birds,” “gangs of greedy grackles” and, “unwanted birdfeeder pests.”
We might love birds, but there is a limit to our birdseed benevolence. The truth is, grackles are no more welcome at our feeders than rats are at an animal shelter.
One blogging birder recommended using safflower seed because grackles don’t like it. So I tried that, and lo and behold, it is working. It has the same effect of announcing to my kids that we’re cleaning out the garage—it makes them disappear.
This morning I’m on my deck drinking coffee, admiring my birdfeeder that is once again covered with finches and towhees and cardinals.
And I’m waiting for bluebirds.
Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at email@example.com.