Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

It’s a strange time of year to enjoy the outdoors in Austin.  We’ve got triple-digit heat, Saharan dust filling the sky, and, you may have noticed, grackles are looking a little worse for wear.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin is a place that not only prides itself on bars and festivals, but also on its wildlife. While bats and salamanders have long enjoyed a certain ecological cache, lately the great tailed grackle has become a controversial contender for unofficial city mascot. Still, it flies in a strange borderland between love and hate.

Mose Buchele / KUT

Signs went up recently near KUT's studios on the UT campus, warning people about aggressive birds. After two members of the newsroom got dive-bombed by grackles, we started wondering what it was all about.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT

Some birds are well-liked. Some are considered pests. Many just slip under the radar—but not the grackle. The grackle demands that you take notice. Pamela Gooby certainly did. 

“It’s like this big velvet wave of grackle in the parking lot of the grocery store," says Gooby, whose question was chosen for this edition of KUT's ATXplained series.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Today’s cold weather has probably prompted the few bird stragglers that didn’t migrate already to hit the skyways fast.  But many local species don’t migrate. If you’ve noticed more grackles around Austin, you’re not the only one.

“People do notice them more in the wintertime because that’s when they are in their large communal roosts,"  Jane Tillman, chair of the Urban Habitat Committee for Travis Audubon, said. "In the summer they spread out and nest, so the males actually have territoriality. But in the winter there’s no breeding going on so everybody gets together in these huge flocks in our H-E-B parking lots."

But just because we may not notice grackles in large flocks year round, doesn’t mean they leave town.