Toronto

A red-winged menace is dive-bombing the good citizens of Toronto

Perched in a sun room overlooking Toronto's waterfront, Tim and Nicky Egan observe in comfort with a glass of wine in hand as unsuspecting pedestrians walking below duck suddenly in fear.

In parks along the waterfront, people are being warned to beware of the feathered aggressors

An ominous sign warns of possible 'aggressive behaviour' at Toronto's Music Garden. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Perched in a sun room overlooking Toronto's waterfront, Tim and Nicky Egan observe in comfort with a glass of wine in hand as unsuspecting pedestrians walking below duck suddenly in fear.

"Innocent people walking along the sidewalk and all of a sudden a bird descends and pecks them on the top of their head," Tim Egan says with a chuckle.

"It's entertainment, but it's a shock when it happens," says Nicky, who became a victim herself last spring when a bird launched an attack on her she while she was walking her dog.

In green spaces along the water in the city, angry red-winged black birds have been on the attack, dive-bombing the citizens of this good city, and Toronto's now taking steps to warn of them of the threat. Signs went up last week in Budapest Park, Little Norway Park and two parks along the waterfront prompted by 311 calls by members of the public.
Nicky and Tim Egan have observed from the comfort of their 7th-floor condominium as unsuspecting passers-by suddenly duck as defensive red-winged blackbirds swoop down. They've been on the receiving end of the attacks too, but get a good laugh out the attacks when they happen. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

'You don't know what's going to happen'

It's breeding season for the birds, and for the next several weeks they'll have eggs and nestlings in shrubs, ditches, and cattails in parks around the city.

And they'll be protecting them with ruthless resolve. 

Maureen Doolub has been on the receiving end of such an attack.

"They're very vicious. They dive right into you; they've poked me a couple of times," says Doolub, who now arms herself with a little towel to shoo the winged menaces away. She won't walk her dog without one. 

She says signs are a great idea, but wonders if they shouldn't be more explicit.
It's breeding season for the red-winged blackbirds, and for the next several weeks they'll have eggs and nestlings in shrubs, ditches, and cattails in parks around the city, and protecting them with ruthless resolve. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

"Mind the birds," doesn't really tell people what they can expect, she says knowingly. "You don't know what's going to happen."

Maureen Callaghan has lived near Toronto's Music Garden near Queens Quay and Spadina Avenue for about 12 years. She first noticed something was in the air when she would see people in suits and briefcases on their way to Billy Bishop airport suddenly throw their hands in the air, their heads swiveling around with shouts of, "What the!"

Callaghan was pecked on the head, just once about seven years ago.

'The other other end of a small hammer'

"It feels like the other end of a small hammer," she said. "It's pretty strong."

But instead of trying to deter the feathered foes, she decided on a peace offering — putting up a small bird feeder in her garden.
Unsuspecting pedestrians in parks across Toronto's waterfront, ground-zero for breeding red-winged blackbirds. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Since then, Callaghan believes she's developed something of an understanding with the birds.

"I have a feeling they know me. Because I let them eat."

President of Bird Studies Canada Steven Price says we have more in common with the feathered aggressors than we might think.

"They're doing what we would do as people," says Price, who was hit in the north end of the city not too long ago and now takes a different route. "They're protecting their young from what they think are threats from the outside."

'This is a 50-60 gram bird'

The birds that look to be sporting red and yellow badges are male, he explains, defending the spots where nests have been made. But citizens need not fear, he says. The birds' aggression should cease within a month or so at the conclusion of nesting season.

"This is a 50-60 gram bird, two ounces in the old measures. It's unlikely to hurt you, which is not to say that some people won't be surprised or afraid."

Meanwhile, the Egans remain defiant, saying they plan to continue enjoying the outdoors despite the threat.

"We love nature... Some people might find it disturbing, might want to eradicate the dreaded redwing blackbird. But it's their territory," says Tim Egan.

"Just wear a hat."

With files from Lisa Xing

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