Naperville 1920 Flashback: August’s Blackbirds
In 1920, Naperville was just a small, mainly rural, community with a population of only 3,830. It was so rural, in fact, that City Council minutes listed expenditures for horse feed and shoeing that were regularly paid to August Springborn, the Assistant Superintendent of Streets. Although the minutes don’t say exactly what Springborn needed a horse for, he probably used a cart rather than a truck for his work on the streets.
Naperville’s residents in 1920 were no doubt more tuned into their environment than most of us are today. The Chicago Tribune carried a column by Larry St. John called “Woods and Waters” in which St. John discussed such outdoor sports as casting, which was a popular competitive activity in the early 1900s for all ages and genders.
One of St. John’s readers wrote from Naperville asking for advice on how to get rid of annoying flocks of blackbirds that congregated every August in town. They roosted in trees in great noisy numbers and made a mess on the sidewalks that in the late-summer heat was really unbearable.
Another reader from Kalamazoo wrote in to comment that it sounded like Naperville had grackles rather than true blackbirds and that many other towns had a similar problem.
Those of us living in the now-mainly-urban city may not notice it, but our birds’ habits have changed since May. We used to hear a lot of birdsong in the early morning as avian families marked out their nesting territories, but the songs wane towards summer’s end because the children have, quite literally, left the nest. Parent birds now spend their time recuperating from the demands of childcare, molting and resting up for fall’s migration.
This pre-migration breather is why the grackles were flocking in Naperville, but they were still a nuisance. The Kalamazoo writer had a suggestion that was seconded by several other letters. Apparently it was common to sneak up where the birds roosted at night and shoot Roman candles into the trees.
There is no follow-up column saying whether Naperville citizens actually tried this remedy or if it worked!