For the Birds Radio Program: Mr. Peepers the grackle

Original Air Date: Aug. 24, 1988

Laura is helping a young grackle become wild. (3:45) Date verified.

Duration: 3′44″


(Recording of a Common Grackle)

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping company with a young grackle. Mr. Peepers fell out of his nest early this summer, and was rescued by a woman who raised him. Now he’s ready to be off on his own, but the woman who rescued him didn’t dare release him in her yard because of all the neighborhood cats, so she brought him to my yard. We have a plague of cats in our neighborhood, too, but my fenced-in yard is guarded by my dog Bunter.

So Mr. Peepers was released on Peabody Street. He’s a friendly little guy—grackles are sociable birds to begin with, and the society Mr. Peeps is accustomed to is human. He isn’t shy at all around people or dogs, and so if he didn’t live in a neighborhood where people knew there was an eccentric bird lady around he’d be in big trouble. He does seem to have figured out about staying away from most people—suddenly he’s even a bit shy around the woman who raised him, but he’s still too trusting around me. He quickly made friends with the neighborhood pack of grackles, and they’re all working hard to persuade him to renounce humans entirely and join their gang. Whenever he flies toward me, they all start shouting danger and then yelling and calling him an idiot in grackle language. So far he’s been shrugging it off—after all, he thinks he knows better. My skin may be white, but inside my heart’s as black as any grackle in his generous opinion.

Anyway, the gang is beginning to score at least a few points with him. He’s learned to follow the flock to grub through the lawn for insects and seeds, and he’s not always around when I go outside. He goes off to the night roost with the grackles in late afternoon, but shows up on my back porch for breakfast every morning. He managed just fine during the heavy rain we had last weekend, though I did bring him in for a little while on Saturday when his feathers got drenched. At this point he’s essentially like a pet dog, staying in the yard most of the time simply because it seems to be his place. He still likes a little human companionship, but overall, like any dog, he prefers his own kind. If I’m successful, though, Mr. Peepers will spend more and more time with the grackles and less and less time around people, and soon will lose all trace of his tameness.

My children and I raised a baby House Sparrow last summer. As soon as he started trying to fly, I kept him loose in the yard all day. He’d come to me for feeding whenever I went outside, but learned how to fly the way baby birds naturally do. When he met up with a local sparrow, he started spending more and more time with him. Like the grackles, the wild House Sparrows all yelled and hollered whenever my little one flew over to me, until he finally figured out what the fuss was all about and turned successfully wild. He’s still in the neighborhood. He occasionally calls out hello to me, but always from an inaccessible perch. This year he raised his own babies, and in spite of his own unnatural upbringing, he did a fine job of bringing up his own children wild. Birds are such a curious blending of instinct and intelligence that it’s not always easy for us to understand just how they know what to do, but they sure do.

Grackles aren’t so sedentary as House Sparrows, and sooner or later my local gang will head out toward the sunbelt. Mr. Peepers deserves to fly alongside them, and so I’ve been cutting down his feedings to try and reduce his dependence on humans. But I’ll sure miss him the first morning he doesn’t greet me at the back door.

(Recording of a Common Grackle)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”