When grackles attack runners …

Sometimes overly aggressive grackles throw a kink in the best-laid exercise plans.

Zach Thorne and his partner, both runners, live near 13th and Guadalupe streets, and head out frequently on 8- or 9-mile jaunts through downtown and around the University of Texas campus. Sometimes, though, dive-bombing grackles send them off course.

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Grackles, Thorne says, have swooped on him most frequently at the north end of Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, and near the intersection of Guadalupe and 12th streets.

A grackle at Cherrywood Coffeehouse on Wednesday May 16, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“I’m running, in my zen, and all of the sudden I hear this loud flapping, like someone waving a sheet of cardboard,” he says. “Then there’s this screech and a peck on the head.”

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The birds, which he suspects are protecting nests, have, on occasion, drawn blood. (Watch a bird peck a movie star’s head in this trailer from the movie “The Birds,” which Thorne has definitely seen. It creeps him out.)

“We change our running routes ever so slightly to avoid them, but they seem to find us no matter our path,” he says, adding that he’s convinced the birds remember him and seek him out for harassment. “I’ve heard they have excellent facial recognition and can perhaps communicate between themselves to alert their flock about dangerous predators.”

Thorne is hard headed, though. He runs despite the birds, sometimes removing his shirt and twirling it overhead like a helicopter to keep the birds at bay. He’s even considered wielding a badminton racket for his forays, though he hasn’t reached that level of desperation. Yet.

He’s got one bit of advice for other runners: “Be nice to the grackles, cause they remember you.”


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