24 October 2009

how to get rid of grackles

How do I get rid of grackles?
How does a city get rid of grackles?

Is it legal to shoot grackles?
Not in the United States, unless you are approved for depredation permits.

Wait, what's the actual underlying question here?
Why are grackles even a problem to begin with?

Abilene, Waco, Houston, Austin, this post is for you. Cities with "too many grackles" in general - this post is for you.

Back on Oct. 9, this column by Gary Clark showed up in the Houston Chronicle. Yesterday's HouChron gem of blog wisdom was more of a cry for help. Tis a response, of course, to yesterday's snippet of "Trained falcon fails to rid downtown Houston of grackles." Ya think? There is no miracle cure, folks.

Shall we look at what makes grackles a problem?
Power line roosts (along streets, near parking lots)
Parking lot trees (leading to car-poop)

Basically, human-induced perching options along human infrastructures leads to human inconvenience (health threat potential as well as aesthetic nuisance) about human personal transportation options. Wait, wait. Mass transit doesn't sit around all day getting pooped on. Carpool and only one person's car gets pooped on. Cut back on the number of power lines and you cut down the available perching space. Those little trees in the parking lots? Pretty feeble human attempts to appease the sun baked parking lot curse.

The overlying theme? Humans. You can blame Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) for a lot of things, but it ultimately all boils down to homo sapiens. Take the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), for example. You wipe out the bison, you fence in the prairies, you disrupt a pattern of natural rhythms... and then suddenly Brown-headed Cowbirds become an overwhelming pressure on certain other songbirds - a pressure that didn't exist when their overall patterns mirrored the bison.

Right, so we were discussing the grackles. Grackles will follow in the footsteps of humans as long as we keep creating awesome habitat for them. Only when we modify our surroundings will it impact them. Older neighborhoods in Houston that are packed with huge oaks and diversely landscaped properties don't have the grackle problem. Yet a block away, the strip malls are laden with epic proportions of feathered scapegoats. Think about it. Plan for a different impact. "Open" urban plan designs that call for mowed grass or parking lots with scarce vegetation may not be the answer for everything. Nature had a pretty nice landscape worked out before we went and urbanized it - grackles had a nice niche in the world as well, before we vilified them.

Now, go forth and admire the super adaptable creatures who have exploited human-made loopholes. After all, we're an awful lot like them.


  1. Is it ok to shoot one or two and leave them lay around to scare all the others away or is this to brutal an approach?

  2. Alas, it's a myth that the bodies will warn away the others - not to mention illegal to shoot them without permits. People try the same approach with decoys and have no luck either... If you have a jumpy, barky dog, that might keep them at bay a little longer?

  3. Thanks Heidi,

    Are you like an animal expert or something? I've tried everything to get rid of these noisey poopers maybe I'll try a pit bull I think they bark a lot and have a fairly good jumping ability. Thanks for your advice I hope it works and you need to be careful with those snakes. Once I had a corn snake bite me on the nose when I was holding it close like you are in the picture. It was about four feet long though. Cheers:-)

  4. *Grin* it's not the first time I've been accused of such! I'm certainly no expert - always learning something new that puts old information in new light. The dog remark was mostly in jest, you really just have to make sense of the bird situation by either thinking about what enables them to be there (power lines? too many fries in the parking lot down the road? are they going after your yard trees?) and then hope that reasonable attempts to modify the situation will work. Borrow someone else's squirrel-chasing dog before getting one of your own! If that doesn't scare the grackles, you'll have grackles and an annoyingly barky dog.

    Thanks for the cautionary note: worst any snake has done to me was slime me with a musk that would make your hair curl. Mostly, it's a goal to only handle snakes that aren't big enough to bite back too hard =)

  5. Over the winter in NC, I had a few cowbirds in my yard; however, NOW they have taken over everything. My Finch, Chickadees, Cardinals, Towhee’s… you name it can't eat nor live in peace. They took over the birdbath and just look at me when I yell at them. I've read that these monsters take others nest and force the mothers to raise their young. I have at least 25 or more sparrow that nest in my yellow jasmine. I love the sparrows and wish the squirrels would chase these horrid creatures away! How do I rid my yard of these pests?

  6. Janet, have you tried a week-long "fast" for your yard feeding? Often enough, your finches through towhees will stick around and be just fine without additional food for a week (because it's their territory and assuming there's adequate habitat around your property). Cowbirds, on the other hand, may just abandon your yard for easier picking elsewhere - at which point you can resume feeding your regulars.

    As for their nest parasitism, it's quite a handy adaptation - they just lay an egg in someone else's nest and when the egg hatches, the chick pushes the other eggs out of the nest. Vicious, but practical. Evolutionarily, it was because the cowbirds followed bison and didn't stick around any area long enough to nest; recent work shows that some cowbirds actually do stay in the areas where they lay their eggs though because they're not following migrating bison. Who knows, maybe they'll build their own nests in the future! On another note, House Sparrows are actually more aggressive than cowbirds and will kill adult birds* (at least Tree Swallows, not sure about bluebirds or chickadees) and throw nestlings out of cavities that they take over.

  7. I put up a Owl decoy in one of the roust trees and that made them move to another place in the neighborhood. Got them out of my trees, but made the neighbors made because they moved there.

  8. Owl decoys can be a temporary fix, but unless moved around occasionally (and even then..) they can lose their effectiveness. Pigeons will roost on plastic owls as well.

  9. I live in a place in Virginia with a ton of oaks, as well as nearby strip malls. The grackles prefer the oaks.

    Thus, I really don't understand how on earth grackles are supposed to be a human fault.

    I mean, 99% of the things currently wrong with the climate, ecosystems, etc, yes...but grackles are inherently independent-minded birds and have and will function quite well with or without us.

  10. I am in the process (I hope) of ridding our yard of grackles. They are noisy, messy, and a general nuisance. They drop the nestling waste in our brickwork, which then requires scrubbing or power-washing to get out. Any kind of firearm is unlawful in our neighborhoods. I have tried clapping and beating on a cardboard box with a wooden spoon...and they just look at me like I'm a crazy person. Then, in frustration, I slapped my size 9 sneakers together, making a loud, repeating pop. I am repeating this every time they venture back into the trees and it is still working. They fly right off. I think if I can keep them from building nests in our pine trees, we may have found a solution. Wish me luck.

  11. Shoe-clapping sounds like.. work! But, hey, if it deters them from making your yard a home, more power to you!

  12. I can not leave my home, or my animals, without being attacked by these things. They are diving at us, squacking and crackling, especially if we are picking our crops in our yards. They have killed all the fish in our pond because they are generally nasty animals and even though I have kept them out of the pond with a snow fence draped over the shallows, they pick up thier poop and drop it in the water. I have even put rubber snakes in the eaves of the house to keep them away. Any other suggestions?

  13. Hi,

    I have been struggling for 3 weeks with grackles here in Minnesota cleaning up their slimy poop and all. I got really mad yesterday and took back my patio and yard. I've been watching where they go ~ and they go for each of my spruce trees and an arbovitae bush by the house. I took my 2 snow rake extensions and started poking where it looked like there were nests. I pulled 6 nests out of 6 trees. All the grackles came down dive-bombing me & I kept swinging at them. I let the nests sit for awhile and then took them to compost pile. Later in evening saw the adult grackles sitting on the ground & look up to the tree "wondering what just happened." They looked puzzled - and when I checked my patio this morning there was no slimy poop when each prior morning it was covered. Previously, I had only been treating the symptom ~ I had to get to the problem, which was their nests. Hopefully, tonight when I get off work I won't have to scrap & scrub any more slime!! Maybe this can help you, too!! I was at my wits end yesterday until I gave it some serious thought. I got really, really mad & wasn't gonna take it anymore!! Good Luck, D

  14. The only sure way to get rid of the poop is get rid of the nests. I have a pool and every day I would come home to 30-40 poops on the edge of my pool or in my pool.
    Here is the best approach. Patience.
    What I do is just sit and observe which bushes they fly into. They are smart but I am smarter. Have a drink, and just watch. Mark which bushes they fly into, that is where the nests are. Get rid of the nests and the poop goes away. Be vigilant however. If you see more poop it means you missed a nest. I love birds but I hate these birds! Good Luck.

    1. Grackles are native, which means that their nests are also federally protected.

  15. I also hate these birds...I mean HATE!! I love all my other birds. Now Feb 28 they have come back again. They take poop from their nests as well and deposit it into our pool!! I have taken their nests down, when I can reach them, get my dog to chace them, bang on anything loud...But year after year they return. I'm surrounded by tall evergreens, that's where they love it. Now I have to take away all my feeders for at least two months! Help! I will try the owl thing and place it near my pool, anything else?