Al Batt: The grackle mob put out a contract on my door

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2022

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I was skipping across the yard. 

It was more stumbling than skipping. The day traveled at warp speed as I filled a trailer with purposeless lumber.

Al Batt

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I was laser-focused on slaving away while trying not to be eaten by stable flies. It’s difficult to hit a small fly with a two-by-four. I hate to be interrupted when I’m working unless it’s by a bird, company, a ballgame, food, a phone call, a cloud resembling a cotton swab, a green tiger beetle, the mail, an airplane or a thought. 

I had a thought as I used a small, but powerful flashlight to find detritus hiding deep in the recesses of a shed. 

“You look like your father,” a couple of friends had commented. I didn’t always, but I’ve changed. Time does that. I couldn’t help it. I loved my father, but once thought that becoming him was a terrifying thing. That’s no longer the case. He was a good man. How good was he? I held the flashlight for him while he struggled to work on a malfunctioning contraption in the darkness. Sometimes the flashlight malfunctioned and I frequently pointed the light to the wrong spot, but I came away from that experience with my nerves intact and no new words. I gave him an invisible Father’s Day card one year. I told him only a good father could see it. He should have been able to see it. Happy Father’s Day, Dad, I held a flashlight in your memory.

As my rememberer was engaged, a grackle made a deposit in my birdbath. Common grackles are blackbirds that have been stretched. Their beady eyes are yellow and their plumage is the color of an oil spill. A grackle has a formidable bill and an unsavory reputation that isn’t deserved. I’m happy to share the planet with grackles.

Our yards are perfect grackle nesting habitat. Grackles, which I’ve heard called crow-blackbirds occasionally, drop droppings on birdbaths, swimming pools, tennis courts, trampolines, wet pavement and shiny cars. It’s innate behavior. We all have a set of rules we live by. Nestling grackles leave their fecal matter, mostly white, in tiny fecal sacs. That’s right, tiny sandwich bags of poop without a zip lock. They do that because it’s difficult to find grackle-sized diapers. A caring parent wants to hide the nest from predators, so it grabs a fecal sac in its bill and drops it into water, thereby destroying the evidence. Then it flies off to buy breath mints and mouthwash.

 One year, grackles thought our garage door was Lake Superior. 

They bombarded the door with unerring accuracy. They turned the door into a porta–potty for grackles.  There was an abundance of grackle poop, as a diet of cutworms and Japanese beetles rushes through a birdling’s system. I’d say there had been a gob of it, but I’m not sure how much a gob is. It wasn’t anything personal or profound. It was a case of a grackle saying, “I’ve got to use the garage door.” 

It wasn’t a scene from Alfred Hitchcock‘s “The Birds” or Wile E. Coyote being humiliated by the Road Runner once again. A truce was imminent. The nestlings would move out and head to Grackle State College soon. A friend told me he’d put a plastic owl out hoping it would discourage grackle bombing visits. The owl became a prime target and was whitewashed. A fly-by hit the man. Getting pooped on by a bird is always a surprise and good luck. I didn’t become exorcised by the birds’ remarkable marksmanship. They weren’t threatening me. I didn’t wake up with a plastic owl’s severed head in my bed.

Your car has likely been pooped on. It helps to think of the kind splattering as a gift. A body shop guy told me it’s good to wash bird poop off a car as soon as possible with a soft cloth. He claimed WD-40 is good for removing avian exhaust.

One memorable year, I was elected mayor of a make-believe city in Minnesota called Grackle Junction. Being the mayor of a nonexistent city is a sweet gig.

The Grackle Junction High School athletic teams were nicknamed the Fighting Fecal Sacs.

My father would have been proud.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.