The Walmart Parking Lot Greeters
Article and photos by Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist
Whether it be at Walmart, Lowes, or Kroger, you will see them on large parking lots. Grackles! These big black noisy birds just love to forage on parking lots, and they roost together at night in the small shade trees planted by the sides. Somehow our man-made parking lots are perfect niches for grackles, especially if there’s a nearby fast food joint. Any cold French fries lying around? Wonderful! They are a treat for these birds.
The males are cocky, loud and bold, with iridescent glossy deep purple and black feathers. Females tend to be brown, bland and smaller, allowing them to blend in with surroundings and keep their broods safe. Since they are ground foragers that live in colonies, grackles use parking lots for food and community gatherings, and they use cars for shade, protection and mating calls. In springtime the males go underneath the cars to make loud raucous mating noises. Their calls are amplified and echoed between the metal undercarriage and the cement! What better way to show off virility and attract a mate, even if their voices sound like chain saws and ratchets.
There are three species in our general area – Common Grackle, Great-Tailed Grackle and the coastal Boat-Tailed Grackle. They are often hard to tell apart, and the different species will flock together, along with other blackbirds such as starlings. Some migrate, but some stay around our area all year long. Although native to North America, grackles are considered to be pests by many people. They love grain and will threaten crops, especially corn. And of course they love the big cement areas in cities and towns. Grackles are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to harass, possess or harm them, or their nests and eggs. Therefore municipalities have devised “Grackle Abatement Programs” in the hopes they can persuade grackles to move to other locales. Some cities hire bird patrols to chase them away, some attempt catch-and-release programs, and some try flashing lights to scare the birds off. Mostly, these big black birds are repeat offenders and are hard to reform!
Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!