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server ‘Two TIIXAS 307 W. 7th St 512-477-0746 Austin, TX 78701 FAX 512-474-1175 slAtcr&e. New. I want to subscribe to the Observer. NAME ADDRESS CITY, STATE, ZIP O1 YEAR $32 O2 YEARS $59 3 YEARS $84 CHECK ENCLOSED BILL ME many left the campus, but we did not know if they would return as soon as they realized we were gone.” The grackles realized, and returned. Over the course of the first week, the everconfident grackle posse fired a total of 588 rounds of cracker shells at roosting grackles. But shooing sly grackles had turned out to be a bit like shifting campfire smoke: on the fourth day of the final offensive, thirty-seven rounds had to be fired to dislodge the dislodged grackles from the grounds of their new roost: the governor’s mansion. In the end, the birds were routed. Over the next week, Harrison wrote, a few dozen stubborn birds were removed with a few dozen shells, and until spring, patrols were sent out whenever birds were sighted. Now regular patrols go out in the fall, to teach the untrained grackles who always, towards dusk, begin fighting over the best spots in the trees, screeching as though they were all the souls of hell happy to be released for a day. Harrison happily reports that the cost of gunning for the birds has been less than cleaning up after them. Once they’re back in the sky, who wants to remember them? Bird-watchersor in this case, birdlistenershave tried to pin down the best acoustic analogy for grackle calls. Alexander F. Skutch, writ _ ing for the U.S. National Museum Bulletin in the 1950s, described how “at one extreme, [the grackle] utters a little tinkling note, rapidly repeated and very pretty; at the other, his calls are so loud that they are best heard at a distance ….There is also a rolling or yodeling call…like the slow swinging of a gate with rusty hinges.” Dr. Arthur Allen observed in 1944: “In the lone pine the grackles were executing their courtships, accompanied by such sounds as shatter an adult’s nerves, but delight children when you draw your fingers over a toy balloon and let the air out at various speeds; first low squeals and then high squeals, followed by a crashing sound as if the bird were beating its wings on dry twigs.” And Helen Gere Cruickshank, in 1968: “If a sheet of tin and one of canvas could be glued together firmly and then ripped, it would make a noise like the opening notes of a grackle’s ‘song.’ These notes are followed by a buzz like the sound of winding the spring of a shoddy toy; it ends with a loud grating squawk.” Several poets have checked in with sweeter descriptions. Texas poet William Barney welcomed the bird’s arrival in Dallas “with open ears.” “The timber-creak in any oaken throat / musicked him more than chanticleers / …The way those old cocks swaggered spelt in / Bloomer’s book, the mark of the elite,” he wrote. Elsewhere Barney entered his grackle-call dekription: “as by a prying at a barrel / till the lid boards groan and give/ and the cool sweet contents gurgle / poured in the plate of air.” Less charitably, Eric Ormsby wrote in “Grackle” in the New Yorker in 1992: “He has an acrid cackle, / a cacophony of slick and Klaxon cries, / with tinsel whispers like a breathy flute” and also described the grackle’s elastic hop, cinder eyes, and his “cunning of hunger.” Rummaging around in recent scientific literature turned up the rare story about human beings actually watching grackles: William Post, a bird behaviorist, working between 1988 and 1993, recorded four incidents of male grackles copulating with objects other than female grackles. Once he more dominant male then copulated with providing evidence for grackle promiscuity at least, erotic creativity. Post also saw a young male, after the usual display of wings half-raised, tail level to the body, and feathers fluffed out, attempt to copulate with “a faded green tenbird’s attentions went unrewarded: “[the grackle] was unable to maintain his position for more than 1 sec. because the ball rolled each time he mounted it. The grackle attempted copulation at least six times in 3 min.” The effort apparently required unique concentration, for, Post wrote, “The bird did not vocalize.” Other than the frank record of its human observer, the grackle sustained no permanent embarrassment: “No other grackles were in view.” Michael Erard dresses as a grackle for Halloween. JANUARY 17, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31