Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

March 13, 2013

Grackles enjoying life in Corsicana

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The cackle of grackles congregating at the intersection of Interstate 45 and U.S. 287 may look like something out of “The Birds,” but they’re really just traveling through. Grackles are migratory birds and while they love wide open spaces with plenty of electricity wires, they aren’t here forever. It just looks like that because when one group leaves, another cackle takes its place, according to biologist David Sierra, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife.

“When you put up open parking lots and clear out areas, that gives them a new habitat to inhabit,” Sierra said. “Corsicana is on the range of much more open land and grackles prefer open land and open fields. They’re not a woodland bird.”

The enormous flocks of birds used to hang out downtown, but repeated firings with the city’s noise cannon and other efforts made it less attractive for the birds.

Because they are considered migratory birds, it’s illegal to kill them, but cities and counties can get special permits from the federal government for killing grackles. A better idea is just to shoo them away, Sierra said.

He admitted it’s not quite that simple.

“They’re not communal nesters. It’s the roost that most people see with grackles,” Sierra said. “The roost can be moved, but it takes a little work and effort. You can’t just have two or three people out there. You have to have a lot of people out there when they’re trying to move the roost and keep them moving.”

The main method is to start just before dusk with a lot of noisemakers and even firehoses to prevent the birds from landing, he said.

“After about three nights of that they’ll go elsewhere,” he said.

The City of Corsicana struggled with grackles year after year in downtown Corsicana using sound cannons and other non-lethal means. Until the last couple of years, that is, when the birds evidently just moved.

“They don’t like the mosquito spray, and while we were spraying for mosquitoes last year they exited,” said City Manager Connie Standridge. “They did not like the mosquito spray.”

Assistant Manager at Mickey’s Exxon Annie Clemons said the biggest problem with the thousands of birds is their waste, although their sheer numbers can be a little intimidating.

“They use the bathroom all over the place,” she said. “For as long as I can remember they’ve been here at this corner. They’re always here, I don’t know why. They kind of gross me out.”

They may seem like they’re constant, but the birds are actually different cackles of grackles, Sierra said.

“What you’re seeing is different groups,” Sierra said. “They don’t all migrate at once. No one gives them a memo saying ‘it’s time to go.’ It may seem like they’re there year-round, but it’s usually different groups of these birds.”

The appeal of Navarro County, and the slightly urban setting of Corsicana is pretty basic — wide open spaces, fairly quiet setting, nice places to sit and chat, and snacks. The location of fast food restaurants and convenience stores makes it easy to nab a tater tot or other easy meal.

“They congregate in cities because there’s a lot of food and places for them to roost in the evenings,” said Jay Whiteside, also a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. “They’re well adjusted to urban life. They’re omnivores. They have a varied diet of seeds and insects, and part of the reason they adapt so well to urban life is because there’s basically a smorgasbord of food for them.”

Getting them to move on involves getting the public to not throw food out their car windows, having the cooperation of local businesses in keeping their parking lots spotless, and then there’s the three-day noise fest.

“They’ll leave out in the fall,” Sierra predicted. “It’s one of those things. How long do you want to put up with it?”

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Janet Jacobs may be reached by email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com