Okay, now I’m angry. No more Ms. Nice Guy. The birds that have been slashing beak-sized holes in my tomatoes are going to find their tail feathers hauled into court if they don’t straighten up and fly right. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).
The case of Donna v. Grackles began on or about June 27, 2011, when the tomato plants I had nurtured, watered and fed crushed eggshells and Tomato Tone began rewarding me by producing healthy-looking pale green tomatoes. The sun shone, time passed. The first luscious red tomato of the season came to dinner.
I had been eying another tomato, which had not yet reached the pinnacle of red juiciness. The following day, when it would have reached that pinnacle, it had a slash about three-quarters of an inch long in its side. Another tomato approached perfect ripeness. Another slash. There was no further destruction, just a single slash in each tomato. The slash, however, provided an opening for the ants, and they didn’t need a second invitation to the banquet.
Evil forces were ruining my tomatoes and not even having the decency to demolish them. The slashed fruit was left hanging on the vine, ant-covered, inedible. But what evil forces?
“Probably birds,” said the neighbor who had grown up on a farm and knows these things.
All right. Time to mount a first line of defense. I had a bunch of CDs from America Online, with a shiny reflective surface on one side and the promise of “1,000 Hours Free!” on the other. I hung them where every passing breeze would cause them to rotate. I waited, looking forward to ripe, unharmed tomatoes.
The slashing continued. Late one afternoon, I caught one of the vandals in the act. The suspect is a large bird, dark in color with dark purple shading and long legs. It is armed with a beak suitable for slashing. It reluctantly flew to a nearby tree when I yelled at it, and sat there, watching.
These birds are afraid neither of shiny AOL disks nor me. Just what do they fear?
To file criminal charges, I would have to approach the State’s Attorney. There is a problem: the subject I spotted in flagrante delicto looks a lot like all the other grackles living rent-free in our subdivision. I would suggest we indict every grackle in the area that has tomato on its breath.
But you can’t just indict accused criminals. You have to indict them for a specific crime. I don’t believe I could get these birds on theft. Part of the definition of theft is the felonious taking and removal of the owner’s personal property. These birds have not removed the personal property. They just ruined it.
Malicious destruction of property sounds like a fit. I don’t see any problem proving that the birds “willfully and maliciously destroy[ed], injure[d] or deface[d] the property of another.” The real legal challenge will lie in getting the birds standing as persons, since Maryland law prohibits only “a person” from maliciously destroying property.
Meanwhile, I have acquired a bird net, which is really supposed to be an anti-bird net, a mesh that will allow tomatoes to grow and ripen unslashed—maybe. One of the engineer birds may be working on a way to fly under the net, slash a tomato and move on.
But here’s a warning, grackles. Don’t count on getting off on the technicality that you’re not persons. If Edgar Allan Poe could personify a bird, I just might give it a try myself.
© 2011 by Donna Engle