Saturday, May 25, 2002


Vigilant Grackles

Two evenings ago, I settled in front of the mini-pond and waterfall in the backyard to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the gurgling water. The reverie was soon broken by the awful squaking of a small group of Common Grackles, maybe 4 or 5 of them, assembled overhead in the Norway Maples. They were repeatedly uttering what can only be described as a very loud and harsh tchack call. Whenever I could get glimpses of the birds through the leaves, they were always perched at a weird angle, with head and bill pointed downward to the ground at a 30-45 degree angle to the horizon and the tail pointed skyward.at a similar angle.

My first thought was that the grackles were attending recently-fledged young in the underbrush and that they were giving alarm calls in response to my presence. The commotion went on for 10 or 15 minutes without interruption. I noticed that an occasiol American Robin, European Starling, and House Sparrow were attracted by the protestations of the grackles, and would join in with their own alarm calls.

Suddenly, there was an awful sound of leaves rustling and twigs snapping as something large charged through the overgrown weeds and underbrush that marks the property boundary between our backyard and the neighbors yard. I realized almost immediately that it was our dog, but what on earth was she after? A couple of seconds later, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of something scurrying up a tree trunk followed closely by a flash of white as our dog emerged from the underbrush. Following the line of the tree trunk upward, I soon spotted the source of all the commotion, a Domestic Cat perched precariously on a tree limb about 20 feet off the ground. Whether a neighbor’s pet or a feral stray, it is an unwelcome intruder in the yard--and possibly explains the several decapitated bird carcasses (just House Sparrows, fortunately) that I’ve found in the yard this spring.

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