Troublesome ‘devil birds’ spread across U.S.
SAN FRANCISCO — In Houston, they tried air cannons so loud neighbors called in the SWAT team. In New Mexico, it took a half-dozen men and thousands of explosives. In Austin, technicians go out night after night with heavy-duty lasers. All to battle an 8-ounce, highly adaptive bird that’s colonizing the country — and leaving behind inch-thick layers of droppings as it goes.
The great-tailed grackle, called by some the devil bird, is lovely to look at. Males are jet-black with a violet-blue iridescent sheen to their feathers that made them prized by Aztec kings in their original range in Central America. But while they once were seen only in the most southern tip of Texas, today they’re in 23 states, as far north as Montana and as far west as Washington.
That might make them nice for bird watchers. But for residents of areas they colonize, not so much. Grackles tend to congregate in large flocks and like shopping centers and fast-food store parking lots, where there’s trash for food and trees or light posts for perching. Their droppings can spread disease, and they can damage citrus crops.
They’re also known for their annoying, almost mechanical call that begins at dawn and dusk. Add to that their frequent attacks on other birds, and they’re simply not good neighbors.
“They’re an unstoppable machine,” said Alan Clark, a bird biologist at Fordham University in New York City. “They’re really hard to scare, they’re hard to kill and they’re in such huge groups that even poison isn’t particularly effective.”