In mid-summer, new neighbours moved in. Before I met them I noticed they had attached quite an elaborate bird feeder to their deck. It swung out to sit in the branches of the willow tree that had spread across the fence from my yard.
“A bird feeder, that’s a good sign,” I thought.
Although, I’m not sure why I would think this as I don’t particularly love birds or find them that interesting. For me to take notice, they have to be exquisite song birds or startlingly beautiful. Or, to be honest, to have a Maori name and be native to New Zealand like the Fantail (Piwakawaka), the Kiwi, the Tui or the Pukeko.
One morning soon after the bird feeder arrived next door, I noticed hundreds, and I don’t exaggerate, hundreds of large, ordinary- looking, large black birds with long skinny legs and bright yellow staring eyes. They swooped in together, making a terrible raucous and pushed the sparrows and starlings out of the way. The little birds sat lined up on the branches of the tree, a safe distance from the black birds, and waited patiently for their turn at the feeder. The red cardinal and the blue jay that often came and sat in my yard were nowhere to be seen.
Just as quickly as those black birds came that morning, they left. Talk about eat and run. Hundreds of them flying off, who knows where. But in the evening, they were back, taking over the entire yard as more and more flew in to feed.
Next day the same thing and the day after that.
Not only did they drive the other birds away, they frightened the life out of the cat. The second day when the birds came for their evening meal, Charlie was lying in the late afternoon sun, minding his own business. As the birds swooped overhead, he made a dash for the door and then made his cat hisses from the safety of the kitchen.
I began to obsess about the black birds. What the hell sort of birds were they? Was I living in an Alfred Hitchcock movie? Were the birds taking over? What was the neighbour putting in that bird feeder? Was it a type of crack or ecstasy for birds? Maybe the neighbour was part of plot. In scary movies it’s always the innocent looking people who turn into aliens.
I needed to find out more. A quick internet search told me these were Common Grackles. Imagine not Grackles but Common Grackles. No wonder they were such greedy and selfish creatures. For some reason, I thought of my mother. I could hear her say about a rather slovenly sort of woman who had recently moved to our village, “She’s very common she has obviously married above her station.”
The Common Grackle is a type of blackbird. They gather in large flocks in the top branches of the trees and then swoop in morning and evening to feed, from a feeder if they’re lucky or to forage on lawns for anything they can get, even garbage. They eat farmer’s crops as well; they’re especially fond of corn.
Early September life in my backyard was considerably quieter. The Common Grackles had gone; migrated to somewhere warmer. Well, at least they were smart on that score.
The tiny sparrows and the occasional blue jay and cardinal were back. And the neighbour’s fancy bird feeder had become just like mine, a squirrel feeder.
I still don’t know much about my neighbours, but I’m confident that they are not aliens.