Web Site Hit Counter

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another Chicago Predator; bicyclists, pedestrians report attacks

By Melissa Patterson Tribune reporter
June 21, 2008

There's a predator lurking in Chicago-area bushes these days. He strikes from behind, when victims are least aware. And the worst part, says ornithologist Doug Stotz: He could be almost anywhere.
Nesting season is in full swing for the red-winged blackbird, making the males extremely aggressive. Walk or bike too close to one's nest and expect to hear its high, menacing squawk overhead. Then comes the peck-peck-peck on your head, victims say, or claws rustling your hair.
It happened to Holly Grosso. The businesswoman was on her cell phone, walking along West Grand Avenue near Rockwell Street on Wednesday, when the bird—dubbed "Hitchcock" by area workers—made its move.

Something just came down, pecked me in the head, took my hair and started flying away," she said. "It's so bizarre. It's this little bird."
Enough of Grosso's colleagues at the marketing firm All Terrain have been struck that they're taking precautions.
After Tara Soltow was attacked a second time Wednesday, she had to find a new route home. Clare McDermott never rides near work without her helmet."This happens every year," said Stotz, conservation ornithologist at the Field Museum.
The male red-winged blackbird, about 8 inches long with distinctive red shoulders, becomes fiercely territorial during nesting season, which runs roughly from late May through mid-July.
One of the most common birds in North America, it typically nests in marshes, fields and bushes. Beware of these dive-bombing daddies near city parks and large vacant lots, around ponds and especially along the lakefront, Stotz said.
Once male blackbirds become aggressive because of nearby nesting, they usually stay that way for about a month. And when they feel threatened, they've been known to follow targets for up to 100 yards.Animal Control Supervisor Andreas Morgen said the agency occasionally gets calls about aggressive birds.
Hitchcock repeatedly swooped near and squawked at a Tribune reporter and photographer Friday near Grand and Rockwell, across from Smith Park.
But the bird's favorite targets appeared to be passing bikers, who flailed helplessly as they were pecked and scratched for more than 50 yards along Grand.
Soltow sees potential for danger."It's making people so they're not being alert when they're biking," Soltow said. "Bikers are going to fall off and maybe get hit by traffic."Jesse Rendon, a Smith Park staff member, said he's been watching for two weeks as bikers fend off Hitchcock while struggling to control their bicycles.
One cyclist toppled over onto the sidewalk, he said.Anyone under the blackbird's radar should stay alert and look directly at the bird, Stotz said.
And when all else fails and dignity is not a factor, McDermott said, the bird will shoo if you bark like a dog.

No comments: