A few things to know about grackles, Austin’s trashiest mascot

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A few things to know about grackles, Austin’s trashiest mascot

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Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman
A grackle stretches it's head while walking a stone wall on the University of Texas at Austin campus.RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There I was, drinking my morning coffee and seeing what Austin was chattering about Thursday morning, when I searched Google for “can you eat grackles.”

It wasn’t a last-ditch stab at finding breakfast. It was a question originally posed by a user on the Austin subreddit (hi, y’all), and I needed to know the answer.

Has anybody in here ever eaten a grackle? from Austin

The merry band of local redditors responded with a bird-induced brio that, while not necessarily helpful, did give the great and mighty grackle the respect it deserves as Austin’s most repellant and ubiquitous bird.

And u/Krankie wrote, “Yes. They taste like french fries and cigarette butts. Best cooked in August at high sun, on an HEB asphalt parking lot flat grill.”

The culinarily adventurous folks who said they had indeed dined on the flesh of Satan’s parakeet, whether telling the truth or not, offered reviews ranging from “A trash bird that eats trash? Tastes like trash” to “Tasted like lean dark meat.” 

Unsatisfied with Reddit anecdotes but grateful for the call to a quest, I searched for a verified account of whether grackle fricassee is A Thing That You Can Do. My findings: inconclusive, and as I learned, perhaps irrelevant. (Not that I, y’know, was going to eat one for real ...) 

But the search led me to find out more about the Lovecraftian talon monsters than I bargained for. So, consider some feathery trivia:

It’s illegal to kill grackles. 

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, all wild birds that migrate through or are indigenous to Texas are protected from harm. The department’s website says a permit is not required for the “control” of grackles “when these birds are considered a nuisance or causing a public health hazard,” barring any local or county prohibiton. That would not include a urban game hunting, Elmer Fudd.

Not that it matters much. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the common grackle is one of the birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The act makes it illegal to “take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter” any feathered creatures under its protection.

They are actual beautiful members of the animal kingdom and not, in fact, mean-eyed gargoyles.

Some highlights from the Audubon listing for this majestic horror of the skies:

  • Grackles are omnivorous. As you likely know, they’re not afraid to steal food.  
  • Their eggs are pale greenish blue, marked with iregular brown, gray and black spots. Baby great-tailed grackles (the ones you’re probably seeing in parking lots) are incubated and fed by the female only, unlike their common grackle cousins, who have dispensed with the toxic shackles of the bird patriarchy when it comes to feeding their young.
  • They’ve been known to eat other adult birds. Be thankful grackles are not human-sized.
  • The male’s courtship ritual includes puffing out its feathers, spreading its wings and tail a bit and making “harsh calls.” Happy to know it’s not just me taking that approach. 

They were here before you were.

Grackle/human cohabitation predates the Spanish conquest of Mexico, according to KUT, back to when the Aztecs brought them along to what’s now Mexico City. The Aztecs thought the grackles’ iridescent feathers were rad. 

At. What. Cost.

The radio station also reports that the birds’ habit of conquering grocery store parking lots looks an awful lot like the behavior of their Mexican brothers and sisters, who tend to take over shade trees in large public spaces, too. They love their wide-open spaces.

Austin has long had it out for these valkyries of the Hill Country.

In the late 19th century, children living near Austin were encouraged to further their marksmanship skills on grackles, KUT reports. In the 1990s, the facilities staff at the University of Texas also attempted to scare hordes of the birds away with rifles firing blanks. Some things never change.

Our bark is worse than our bite.

Like any family, Austin complains about grackles just as much as it loves them. As Vice points out, Austin Community College students were once called grackles before their mascot was the Riverbat. And of course, there’s the Grackle bar in East Austin.

Hard to eat something when you know it so well, isn’t it? Also: Please do not try to eat a grackle. That’s horrible.

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