They swoop down out of the sky to attack their unwitting Northbrook victims. If you've braved the danger zone along a stretch of Anets Drive near the northern parking lot at Techny Park and Prairie, you may have seen the startling attacks, reminiscent of scenes from a Hitchcock movie: A red-winged blackbird is dive-bombing passersby.
Amy Miller, an employee of nearby Crate & Barrel, fell victim last week.
“Luckily, I've heard of this so I was not as surprised when it swooped down and pecked me on the head,” she said. Miller said she was singled out by the bird while riding her bike to the Bluegill Shelter near the Anetsberger golf course, where she, her daughter and their friends were attending a picnic.
“I was surprised [the bird] followed me, and continued to dive at me for about 20 meters. On the way home the same thing happened. Then it went after a guy who was going in the other direction. Luckily, I yelled a warning at him so he was prepared. One more reason to wear a [bike] helmet. If you don't get scared and just keep peddling, you'll soon be out of their nesting protection zone and safe,” said Miller, who added that Crate & Barrel employees often get emails warning people who are going out at lunchtime to be aware of the birds.
However unpleasant it may be, the birds' behavior is normal.
“Happens every year. Red-winged Blackbirds love to nest there," said Northbrook Animal Control Officer Gina Manski. "Once nesting starts, it only lasts a few weeks. [The bird] may have one more clutch in summer, but not always.”
Click on the video links above to see the bird in action.
According to Manski, such incidents nearly always occur when a person walks, jogs or bikes near an area where the birds are nesting. Any bird species might, when nesting, swoop down on humans, but red-winged blackbirds and robins are the two area species that most commonly do so.
Like birds themselves, such incidents are not limited to Northbrook. Northfield resident Bill Wallace says he has had numerous red-winged blackbird close encounters recently while taking morning walks. “On Wagner Road, just north of Winnetka Avenue, this bird will fly above my head and occasionally swoop down towards me. There are a large number of them a bit further north on the west side of the street where there are no sidewalks. That does not keep them from flying across the street to greet me with their warning chatter, and occasionally hover around my head while I walk by.”
Wallace has learned to keep his distance from a couple other aggressive red-winged blackbird in the area. One likely has a nest in a tree on the west side of Sunset Ridge Road near Lake Avenue. “Unlike the other birds, which chirp warnings at you, she swoops down low within your peripheral vision and flaps her wings in an aggressive manner," Wallace said "She is quite intimidating but unlike the others she does not vocalize her warnings."