Houston Matters

Should Grackles Be Houston’s Official City Bird?

The yellow-crowned night heron won a recent public vote, but some make a case for Houston’s pesky, ever-present swarm.

Downtown Grackles
A swarm of grackles in downtown Houston.

The yellow-crowned night heron was recently named the bird of Houston by Houston Audubon.

But some had another favorite, and that includes the organization’s own resident ornithologist, Dr. Richard Gibbons.

“I was on ‘Team Grackle’ all the way,” he said of those ubiquitous black birds that often congregate in massive numbers in city parking lots and on power lines.

MORE: What’s The Deal With Houston’s Grackle Infestation?

Great-Tailed Grackle
Great-tailed grackles often gather in massive numbers in Houston parking lots and on power lines.

Great-tailed grackles in specific, they’ve got so much personality,” Gibbons said. “They’re opportunistic. They’re on the move, and they work hard. And they’ll let you know they’re there.”

Nevertheless, the yellow-crowned night heron won the contest, determined by a public vote in a head-to-head, bracket-style format in July and August.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron
A yellow-crowned night heron and its mate.

That was just one of the numerous bird-related topics Gibbons discussed with Houston Matters host Craig Cohen. In the audio above, you can hear their entire conversation along with his answers to listener questions.

Gibbons also discussed the recent tough times for North America’s nesting birds. Since the 1970s, we’ve lost close to a third of them.

According to a report just published in September in the journal Science, even blackbirds and sparrows are in decline. One of the study’s authors, Cornell University conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg calls the decline “staggering.”

Meadowlark
Meadowlarks are one of the species of nesting birds that had a drastic decline in population in the few past decades, according to a recent report.

Gibbons added there’s only so many birds a habitat can support.

“The causes of these declines are habitat loss, invasive species,” he said. “So, if we don’t have the habitat, then the birds just don’t make as many young. And it’s just been a slow, slow, grinding decline for the last 50 years.” 

Richard Gibbons of Houston Audubon
Dr. Richard Gibbons is the conservation director for Houston Audubon.

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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