SAN ANTONIO — Michael Krone has been getting up before the roosters to deal with a little crowing of his own.
“A lot of people hate them. Some people like them. I think they are awesome,” Krone said.
The 70-year-old is an employee of Texas Bird Services who works with Centro Ambassadors to redirect the flocks of grackles that try to make downtown San Antonio their nesting place.
“I really like them. They are a very interesting bird,” he said. “They are raucous. They are entertaining. They are a pest.”
Krone walks a beat around downtown San Antonio with a pole, a green laser light and a slapstick five days a week. He takes on the grackles at dawn and dusk. Shooing the birds away keeps the noise and tremendous amount of droppings they leave behind.
“When they panic altogether or get spooked by me or something else it sounds like a hoard of jungle birds just going crazy,” He said.
The elderly technician’s job has garnered him the nickname ‘birdman.’ Krone said it’s the first nickname he’s had in his life. He is, by no means, an ornithologist, but you can’t tell that from talking with him about birds. In fact, he knows when the grackles mock him.
“It’s the alpha males,” he said.
The green laser which is supposed to send humane frequencies to drive to the birds away does not always work. Neither does the piercing sound of a slapstick. A jolt of the tree might anger a bird that will swoop down to attack.
“It’s kind of a fun little game,” Krone said. But, after a while they decide we are not going to go for it. Then they become like kamikazes.”
That doesn’t bother the bird man who sees his connection to the birds as a financial partnership. As long as they migrate to San Antonio, he has a job. Krone even developed a relationship with a grackle outside of one of his off-duty coffee spots. He recalls the bird eating frosting from the plastic packing of a pastry in his hand with precision and gratitude.
His connection to the birds also provides resources for his favorite pastime. Krone is an artist. He used to illustrate books for a living. The repetition of ideas made him feel like a caged bird. A friend even said that Krone was missing from his own work.
“It’s not that the jobs were so bad,” he said. “It’s just reached a point where it was working for me.”
Eventually, the calls for his work stopped. His income evaporated. Krone was homeless for nearly four months until a friend in Austin offered him a job chasing grackles. That opportunity flew all the way to San Antonio.
It allows the bird man to come home to take on watercolors, recreating old masters, abstracts, some political art and, of course, grackles.