It's attack season for protective Brewer's Blackbird parents.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Photo by Brett Wilbur: Trouble in Paradise: Brewer''s Blackbirds are attacking oblivious Carmel shoppers.
In the upscale, multi-level Carmel shopping center known as The Barnyard, shoppers like to meander through the colorful flower gardens and jade boulder exhibits. Many are tourists, on no particular schedule, window shopping or sitting outside on a sunny bench waiting for their spouses to try on clothing. People tend to move slowly while deciding between services like manicures and eyebrow waxing, a sushi lunch, children''s and adult''s boutiques, and bookstores. But lately, these pleasure jaunts have turned shoppers into sitting ducks.
Outside of a shop called Donle, there''s a sign written on a stand-up chalkboard, which reads: "Warning Aggressive Birds." The sign is decorated with an outline of two flying birds. I pause, to reread the sign. It''s so cute I wonder if it has something to do with the shop, and on cue, from the neighboring trees, they spot me. Something smacks into the right side of my head, hard.
I scream. It''s the shock of being blindsided, the surprise of something from above. In a whir of wings, it''s back in the tree. A woman turns to look at me. "A bird just attacked me!" I yell. She keeps walking. It''s no news to the shopkeepers here.
Peggy Donle puts up with massive streaks of bird poop running down the window of her women''s clothing and home furnishings stores, both located in The Barnyard. But then there are the attacks, the majority of which seem to be centered in front of her upper-level store.
In a cluster of purple bougainvillea wrapped around a support post outside the entrance to her store is a nest full of baby blackbirds. On a brick pathway that leads in front of her business, shoppers at any speed are targets to worried blackbird parents watching their nests from the trees on the other side of the path.
Sometimes, Donle explains, the parents fly smack into her window en route to feeding the babies. And then, perhaps shocked silly, they react with more flying poop.
The birds have built nests in approximately nine sites at the shopping plaza, including one on top of a light in the center, a fact a maintenance worker discovered when he went to replace a burned-out lightbulb.
"They were dive bombing the maintenance guy," Donle says. "He was almost pecked to death."
Donle says that for some of the older attackees, the experience has been startling.
"The little old ladies panic," she says. "They might not be shopping at our store, but we bring them in, sit them down, and give them something to drink--their hearts are pounding and we calm them down."
A woman walks by and greets Donle.
"Good morning dear, be careful or the birds are going to get you," Donle waves cheerily.
She theorizes that the blackbirds, who she says often work in pairs and "tag team" people, practice selective targeting, possibly based on hair color.
"Some people they never attack," she says. "There''s a girl who works here with dark brown hair who never gets attacked--but the blondes and the redheads do."
As we talk, two children walk by, staring straight ahead. They never see it coming as one after another, three birds swoop in to peck their little heads.
"It isn''t good for business," Donle sighs, "but we just kind of let it fly. It''s part of what you put with in a nice outdoor mall with flowers."
The nuisance may be short-lived: according to local bird watcher and bird atlas author Don Roberson, the aggressive behavior only occurs in the breeding season.
"They''re Brewer''s Blackbirds," he says matter-of-factly. "They are very aggressive about anything coming close to their nest. They can often being seen chasing crows and hawks during the spring when they''re on their eggs and as soon as the babies fledge."
Roberson advises that people just put up with the birds, a native California species.
"My advice is the same as I give to golfers who are bothered by coots," he says. "Wait for the season to go away. You will have very little success if you move the nest, and it''s illegal to interfere with the nest of native birds."
Roberson estimates that 45,000 adult pairs of Brewer''s Blackbirds live in the county, for a total estimated population of 200,000 birds.
"It makes them one of the most common species in the county," he says. "They are one of the native birds that have done well with people. There''s no place they don''t like."
And while people may leave their shopping experience with a slight headache and a fluttering heart, according to both the Carmel Police Department and the Monterey County Sheriff''s Department, complaints of bird attacks aren''t coming in.
I return to The Barnyard, to snap a photo of the birds. This time I''m egging them on, to come closer for the photo. But they''re smarter than I give them credit for. None of them fly in front of the camera lens. Instead, they circle me from behind, and in my peripheral vision, I see the flutter of wings as I run away.