On a Night Like This

Photo: Grackles in the Parking LotWhat happens when I go for a quick grocery trip at dusk, mainly to get a handful of bananas to keep our household well-breakfasted the next day? Usually, just bananas. You know, go in and get a handful of them, hop in the car, and zip home.Photo: A Gathering of Grackles

But not on a night like this (last night). Sure, I go in, I find the bananas, and—as usual—I find a few other things that I’d forgotten were on my list from the last shopping expedition, and I head out to the parking lot. But as I’m walking to the car, there’s a huge wave of action overhead: the grackles are coming in to roost in the trees all over the lot. It’s like a cartoon version of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds‘. Daphne Du Maurier never imagined it like this; flocks and crowds of scrawny, scruffy, long-tailed grackles chattering, nattering, whistling, and whirring as they flit from power lines to parking lot, from tree to tree. Nobody’s running and screaming, and no birds are diving at anybody, but the action is lively and just a little loopy. This time of year, especially, it’s quite the show.Photo: Grackles by Moonlight

So I load the groceries into the back of the car, throw my purse onto the front seat, and grab my little camera, because the surreal silliness simply grabs me and makes me feel weirdly, cheerfully glad that we ran out of bananas at just this time. I hang around taking snapshots and a little video, where despite the breeziness of the evening I think you get a hint of what it was like to stand in that cackling cacophony, and then I hop into the banana-mobile and drive home, keeping the windows down so I can hear the grackles for a very long way and listen as they segue into cicada and cricket songs before I pull into the driveway at home.

Is it the brightness of the moon? The changing of seasons (subtle as that is around here)? A convention? I’m not sure, not at all. But I’m glad I stumbled into it. The song will ring in my ears for a while. You never know what might happen on a night like this.Photo: A Night Like This

4 thoughts on “On a Night Like This

  1. Yep, that’s the sound of grackledom, all right. For several years grackles swarmed for a month or so each late-fall evening on power lines less than two miles from where I live, so I went out on several occasions to photograph the masses of birds:


    For whatever reason, they’ve stopped swarming there, and the significantly greater distance to still-active swarming sites has meant that I’ve rarely gone out to photograph grackles en masse over the last three years. Just this Monday, though, I spent time photographing a few individual grackles on the patio at the original Central Market (and two years ago I did the same at the Central Market in Fort Worth).

    • Given the tremendous variety of calls and imitative sounds that grackles seem to make, I wonder at times if they’re a breed that’s much governed by set patterns! Maybe they’re just gypsies at heart and flocking/swarming in new spots for a while, and will return eventually when your spots seem new again. One thing I’m fairly sure of with them, though, is that they’re always likeliest to show up where there’s food nearby, readily available. Lots of them hang around grocery store lots, landfills, restaurant alleys, and the like. Inland seagulls, perhaps, in that way?

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