the jolie laides of the new world

John James Audubon. 'The Purple Grakle', The Birds of America, 1840

Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785, died in New York in 1851: a long life for the time. He is best known for his 1840 The Birds of America from which the plate of the grackle, above, comes.   

In case one thought the plant these two grackles are sitting on is something exotic and tropical, it is a stalk of corn.  The backward arching of the top grackle's neck seemed equally exoticised to me – the odalisque pose of a nineteenth century orientalist's gaze – until I went to central Texas where grackles are something of an urban scourge, and found that they tilt their heads back in just this way.  

They are beautiful, gleamy, silken birds that collected in huge flocks on the University of Texas at Austin campus: plenty of trees, lots of crumbs all around the student union building.  The grackle patrol at about four in the afternoon would travel around the campus with a great booming gun to scare the grackles away so they wouldn't settle in for the evening.  

Grackles, like magpies and starlings, are very chatty.  No doubt, living on a campus, they were trading witty post-structuralist quips.