The Birds, circa late ’70s

Although sometimes I never get back to things I say I’m going to get back to, there is almost always a good reason for this. Usually the reason is that I can’t find anything else that sheds light on the matter. But I never forget the loose ends and try to wait patiently for answers to bubble up on their own.

Tuesday afternoon I accidentally found something that I’ve been hoping for for years:  original images of the bird invasion of the ’70s to early ’80s. They are negatives (hard to see without a light box!) and naturally they were in an unexpected but still logical place: a photo file filled with pictures of trees. Indeed, much of what you can see on the strips with a quick squint looks like this:


One evening around dusk someone went over to the space in front of Hamman Hall and took shots of the grackles moving in from what seems to be the northwest:






These are the first pictures of this we’ve ever found. It’s strange to me that something as big as the grackle infestation has left behind so little evidence but there you have it. Grackles are predictable, humans less so.




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12 Responses to The Birds, circa late ’70s

  1. Steve Weakley says:

    It was unbelievable. The whole campus stank. The sidewalks were wet with bird droppings. One sad night, having partaken of too much of something , some of us decided to fight back. Under a canopy of live oaks and birds, we shouted and jumped up and down. Who knew that when birds are frightened and fleeing danger, they shriek and empty their bowels? White rain. Ugh.

    Steve Weakley, Lovett ’72

  2. loki_the_bubba says:

    I remember them well. I would often take an umbrella when walking from Lovett to Jones and back. But the fun part was too wait until a group of friends were passing under a tree and then scream at the birds. Just make sure you’re out of range of the carnage yourself.

  3. Karen says:

    I guess they never learned. In the late 70’s, they tried recordings of cannons with similar results. I think at least for awhile, they tried recordings of grackle distress calls. I can’t remember all the things they tried. I just know that during certain seasons, you had to carry an umbrella when walking near the library, no matter what the weather.

  4. grungy1973 says:

    Nets over the trees, a real propane cannon – what worked was tedious – trimming the trees to remove perches upon which to roost. Grackles and cowbirds will not perch within pecking distance of each other. There has to be about two bird-widths between any pair of birds. When there wasn’t enough room left on campus, they found some other wooded area to infest.
    (BTW, I’ve got a light box for you.)

  5. Deborah Gronke Bennett BSEE Hanszen 1982 says:

    The birds were very present and a big nuisance during my time at Rice (1976-1982). The combination of bird poop and heavy humidity or light rain on the streets and sidewalks made them very slippery for a bike rider like me.
    One of my favorite memories is of the desk people at the RMC going outside in the evening and throwing a large piece of metal to to try to keep them from roosting in the 6 big oaks in the Ley Courtyard. It is was only moderately successful.
    I guess there aren’t that many pictures since the birds were just part of spring on campus. However, I found some good shots in my Campanile collection.
    1975: p.477 shows birds over the main quad
    1977 pgs 28&29 show a tree full of birds, one bird on the ground, and Hiram Berry couting dead birds, along with a comic strip about the birds.
    1980 p.17 shows a flock ascending off a field.

  6. Deborah Gronke Bennett BSEE Hanszen 1982 says:

    Melissa, you have written about the birds before:
    Walter Underwood found Thresher articles about the birds here:
    and here:

    At the end there is an informative posting from Heidi B. Good describing her research on the bird population and her recommendations on how to trim the trees so that they don’t roost at Rice.

  7. francis eugene 'gene' pratt The Rice Institute 1956 says:

    Some time in my past, since Institute graduation in 1956, I remember reading of a bird invasion at the airport (s?) in England. I don’t remember if they were grackles.
    The mechanism that ultimately made them stay away was –reportedly– recordings of Elvis Presley.
    Good story. ? if true.
    Anyone else remember that, or is that just another pigment of my imagination?

  8. Kurt James Wiess 1984 says:

    One evening in the winter of ’82 or ’83 I walked over to the computer lab (without my umbrella). When I entered and walked back to where I needed to go, numerous people looked up at me. I smiled and greeted them all, thinking “Boy, everyone sure is friendly tonight”. When I got to my destination I looked down to find bird poop all down the front of my jacket. Obviously, I was a little starved for human affection to mistake looks of disgust for the milk of kindness!

  9. marmer01 says:

    Yes, another veteran of the early 80s weighing in. Grungy is right — tree trimming to remove branches of a certain size is what convinced them to move. I think to the Galleria area. And as Deborah says, the sidewalks would get insanely slippery with rain and bird poop. In the darkest days of the early spring semester it would make the Rice experience not, perhaps, as bucolic as Admissions publicity would suggest.

  10. Susanne Glasscock says:


    We remember the Grackles well……and the aluminum pie pans hung on the branches to ‘scare them off’….and the spraying of something that smelled like something birds didn’t like…..etc, etc… But just for fun you might want to check out an ‘Urban Legend’ that says it was the 21 gun salute fired over in Hermann Park at the time of the ’92(???) Economic Summit that was what finally drove the ‘blackbirds’ to somewhere else…..I do remember the 21 gun salute… was loud!!!!! Another day….another legend…..Enjoy….


    Sent from my iPad


    • francis eugene 'gene' pratt The Rice Institute 1956 says:

      Inasmuch as I learned so much from your CE courses
      — mainly, how to always schedule a course in “Butcher Hall” (Chemistry Lecture Hall in my day) —
      and how to locate Valhalla (the lawnmower storage then) in order to prevent dehydration before, during and after the lectures,
      I wish to present you with a chance to increase your expertise in ordinance.

  11. Loretta Mauldin Boggan says:

    My memory of Rice’s attempts to cope with the bird invasion is of a helicopter that was hired to fly over [what was then the President’s Residence but now I believe is the Alumni House by Brown] about the time the birds were settling in, presumably in an effort to roust them and convince them to go somewhere else. Didn’t work…those clever little guys simple came back when the copter left. This went on for a few weeks. What I remember about the effort, though, was one evening the copter disturbed a flock of red-winged blackbirds. The birds flew off in a huge formation and their red wings were a beautiful contrast to their black bodies. We were on the Brown roof (are y’all allowed to go up there still?) so we could see it from above…an amazing sight!

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