Grizzled Grackles and the Art of Transformation

The grackles in my Corpus Christi neighborhood are looking rough these days. Yesterday, on my morning walk with my 3-year-old, Stanley, we saw a grackle that had no tail feathers. As he hopped along the grass, I thought, what’s that strange black duck? A grackle without a tail is an odd-looking bird indeed. Then I saw another grackle that looked like it had had a bad encounter with a weed wacker. Its lone tail feather dangled toward the ground at a ninety-degree angle. Those poor grackles.

As Stanley and I walked on, we passed a neighbor’s lawn full of black feathers. Under a large live oak, hundreds of feathers stabbed into the ground like darts. Was there a gigantic grackle brawl I just missed?

Turns out this time of year is grackle molting season. It starts late-July, and right now in south Texas, it has hit its peak. And man do molting grackles look ugly. They are roughed up and raggedy. The rainbow iridescent oil-slick of their feathers in gone. The sharp exclamation-point of a tail, a thing of the past.

As I was scrolling through Google hits about grackle molting, this line caught my attention: Molting is a sign of great health. This transformative stage is good. Healthy. They have made it through nesting season and caring for young, and now they have the energy to devote to new feather production. Transformation is a sign of great health.

If a grackle is molting now, it means it went through a successful nesting season and caring for young, and now it has the good health and energy to devote to new feather production. But, first it has to shed the old, tattered parts.

Do molting grackles think themselves ugly? I doubt it. One particularly haggard bird I observed was enjoying a shower in a lawn sprinkler, going about his day, doing his grackle things.

Transitional times are awkward. They often involve loss. They take tremendous energy. But they are also a sign of great health.

Lots of us are in a seasonal transformation, adjusting to a school year that looks anything but normal. I have friends in college towns in Georgia who are in the middle of a COVID hotspot, still required to teach face-to-face. I have friends—like my family—who are working remotely full-time without childcare. I know many people who are trying to homeschool, hybrid school, or online school. It’s an overwhelming and exhausting transition. After the first week of teaching 15-credit hours of online college classes, I looked like my grizzled grackle friend.

Yet I’m reminded that this, too, is a sign of growth. I’m learning new instructional technologies (Screen Cast O’ Matic and Zoom Breakout Rooms to name two). Because of COVID, we have had to shed traditional ways of learning for a while, and while I feel this as a tremendous loss, I’m also noticing that some new feathers are growing in, ever so slightly.

It’s my hope that if you find yourself minus a few feathers these first few weeks of the new school year that you’ll be gracious with yourself and those around you. This is transformation; it’s a sign of great health.