The Trouble With Great-Tailed Grackle Birds

I think I have made my stance on birds fairly clear. With a few exceptions, birds are not to be trusted; it is not normal to have such soft, vulnerable bodies bookended with slashing beaks and razor-sharp claws. It is as unnatural as an armed marshmallow.

Now an invasive species called the great-tailed grackle ("called by some the devil bird," according to USA Today; by "some" now, by all soon) are swarming through farmlands and suburban supermarkets and ruining everything.

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.

Add to that their frequent attacks on other birds, and they're simply not good neighbors.

Previously confined to Central America, the birds have surged north and west over the last few years, following herds of cattle and stealing grain from feedlots. Bird biologist Alan Clark calls grackles an "unstoppable machine" and gives three excellent reasons for fearing them:

1. They're "hard to kill"
2. Worse, they're "really hard to scare"
3. They are so numerous "even poison isn't particularly effective"

What we face, then, is an invasion of indestructible birds, which breed no cowards and regularly gulp down poison, with an eye for expansion.

For three years, these flying knives have made a Kroger grocery store in Texas their home base: the trees in the parking lot are constantly "black with birds" as they seethe from one branch to the next, murder in their hearts. Manager Jeff Bailey and his workers tried setting off a "bird cannon," which mimics the sound of mortar fire, to frighten the flocks away. The cannon brought the police and fire department down to the store. The birds did not move.

A town in New Mexico, groaning under the weight of the birds' waste, sets off Black Cat firecrackers into the trees every night at sunset in order to drive them away. Texas Bird Services uses "high-powered lasers" to confuse the flocks into abandoning their roosts; they even hire a falconer to send trained hawks after them to clear out the stragglers.

Does it work?

"New flocks arrive almost daily."

The worst part of the devil bird - worse than the "human health" risk posed by the number of their droppings, worse than their "annoying, almost mechanical call that begins at dawn" - is their dead, laser-pointer eyes, their artificially stiff movements, and eerily glossy feathers, like a horrible robot-bird designed to mimic the appearance of true birds. "Don't mind us," their buzzing calls seem to say. "Our feathers only cover normal bird meat, not an unholy alliance of smoking wires and foul intent."

Now they have landed in San Francisco: up to "six males" and "at least one female" have been spotted within city limits. There is nowhere left for them to go in their relentless push to the sea; the West has already been conquered.

[Image via Getty Images]