GALVESTON — From dusk until dawn, the sky is alive with the sounds of chirping, whistling and the flapping of wings from the influx of thousands of birds that roost here during the winter months at the intersection of 61st Street and Stewart Road.
For two months, the displayed phenomenon has made many islanders curious as to what the birds are and why they are there.
“They scare me,” said Joy Webster, customer service representative at Walgreens at the intersection of 61st Street and Stewart Road. “At a certain time of the evening, there are over 1,000 of them.”
Jim Stevenson, executive director of the Galveston Ornithological Society, identifies the birds and assures everyone they aren’t dangerous.
“They are almost entirely great-tailed grackles, although there could be a few starlings mixed in,” Stevenson said. “The browner ones are the females.”
Great-tailed grackles are abundantly found throughout the West and Midwest regions of the United States. The males have black, yet shimmering, feathers; yellow eyes, black legs and a straight black bill. They weigh roughly 7 ounces and average 18.1 inches from head to tail, according to www.AllAboutBirds.com.
The females are half the size of their male counterparts, weighing 3.7 ounces and 15.1 inches from head to tail. They have lighter, brown-colored feathers.
During the day, the birds disperse from the power lines in every direction to gather food. Their diet consists of grains, oats, fruits, insects, small fish, trash left by humans and occasionally small rodents such as mice.
Stevenson said the birds congregate to this area in such large numbers because the birds are not as threatened as they would be in areas such as Kempner Park.
“Grackles move their roosts around regularly because Cooper’s Hawks and other predators prey on them,” Stevenson said.
He also said BB gun-toting children account for one of those predators.
While the birds make some islanders uneasy, others have no quarrel with the winter visitors.
“They’re fine,” said Marcus Williams, sales representative at the AT&T store located near the intersection. “They’re a part of the earth. They don’t bother me except when they drop droppings on your car. That’s the one thing I don’t like.”
“I really don’t mind them,” said Christian Reigns, manager of Subway located on 61st Street. “I find them cheerful when I get to work at 6 in the morning.”
As the weather warms and spring approaches, the flock of great-tailed grackles and starlings in the area is expected to dwindle dramatically by the thousands.
“They disperse in spring to make even more,” Stevenson said.
It is likely the birds will return to the island next winter. If so, it is more likely there will be a plethora of newborn birds joining the flock that will turn the sky alive with chirping, whistling and the flapping of wings from dusk until dawn.