Wilmette, News

Head’s Up! Red-winged blackbirds are here and ready to defend their territory

Look out below.

It’s the time of year for local walkers, joggers and leisurely strollers to keep an eye out for the red-winged blackbird, a hyper-protective parent that dive bombs anyone who may come too close to their nest.

The Village of Wilmette is just one local organization that has posted signage at known nesting locations in the community, warning residents of the emotional birds.

Brigitte Berger-Raish, the village’s engineering and public works director, said each year a handful of residents alert the Village to blackbird attacks, which usually include the male blackbird flying into the head of someone judged to be a threat.

“They will fly into your head. It is quite startling if you don’t expect it, which most people don’t,” she said.

Berger-Raish knows this firsthand. She remembers being a dive-bomb victim when she was a high-schooler in nearby Hoffman Estates. She said for years she thought it was just a random — and scary — occurrence. Then, she learned more about the red-winged blackbird.

Now, each year Berger-Raish and her team work to educate the public on the animal’s protective behavior.

Signage on Poplar Drive in Wilmette alerting residents to a blackbird nesting site.

Red-winged blackbirds are a migratory species that arrives in Chicagoland in the early spring and typically nests and lays eggs by early June. The eggs take up to two weeks to hatch and in another two weeks or so, the chicks are mature enough to leave the nest, making the timeframe the birds are most aggressive between late May and early July.

“One tip we tell people is not to turn their backs on them,” Berger-Raish said. “They almost always attack people from the back.”

The blackbirds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Intentionally harming them is illegal and can result in fines and more, the act states.

So far this year, the Village has identified a blackbird nesting area on Poplar Drive just north of Linden Avenue. Another common location is along the multi-use path near the Metra station; though, Berger-Raise said the village has not received complaints related to that area this year.

Another nesting site is on the grounds of the Baha’i Temple, where officials have posted signage in the parking lot. The birds are also found in Gillson Park.

A red-winged blackbird foraging in Gillson Park.

According to the National Audubon Society, male red-winged blackbirds perch on high and fluff their feathers and tails to both defend their territories and attract mates. They will attack both larger birds and humans who get too close to their nests and also use a song, or warning whistle, to protest intruders.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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