Lil’ Mach: One Macho Blackbird: Week #3 – 6/26/19

 In CSA Newsletter
Red-winged blackbirds are one of the first migratory birds who return to our fields in the spring. The males are sleek, beautiful birds with black feathers and these special tufts of red (with a little bit of yellow) on their shoulders.  Their red tufts remind me of the bird version of epaulettes. They make a special ringing call, kind of like an old telephone. When they aren’t calling, they often communicate by sort of chipping back and forth to one another. 

Mated couples build their nests on the edges of fields and wetlands in the tall grasses or cattails. The males are notoriously territorial. They are extremely aggressive with other males and other birds when guarding their nesting area.

Aggressive behavior with humans is normal for them as well if that human is too close to their nest. The behavior is generally an aggressive chipping and following of you closely. They are very good at letting you know that don’t want you near.  Occasionally, an aggressive bird will swoop and peck at the back of a person’s head if the bird feels particularly nervous about the human’s whereabouts. This swooping is accompanied with a little warning hiss right before it pecks. 

Before I tell the rest of my story about Lil’ Mach, I want to introduce the cool thing I learned from a Radio Lab episode a few years back.  Ever wonder why you sort of instinctively look up whenever you feel the shadow of a bird cross over your head?  Turns out early humans (don’t test my firm grasp how early we are talking here) were prey of large birds. Large birds would peck them at the base of their skulls and suck out their brains. 

This season on our farm a male red-winged blackbird and his mate built a nest in a very central part of our farm. Right near a main drive path, near the strawberries, they built a nest in the implement storage area. 

In all my years of farming, 15 and counting so far, I have never encountered a red-winged blackbird as aggressive as this one. Usually these birds build nest of the outer edges of our fields so we don’t come into close contact with them often. But since this couple built in a central location, we are always encountering the male. 

The male is on the look out constantly and he is unafraid to attack. 

He also seems to have a special dislike for me. I can be moving with a group of 6 other people through the area and it is me that he will attack. He hisses and pecks my neck and the back of my head. He’ll even fly up under my sunhat just so he can peck my skin. Yesterday he attacked me 9 times. 

Seeing as I, just like you, have an embedded instinctual unpleasant reaction to birds being near the back of my neck, you can understand I’m not a big fan of this bird. 

He’s an exhausting little thing. He also happens to be protected by the Migratory Bird Act, so there’s not much we can do about him. We can’t disturb his nest. And we certainly can’t trap him. 

So we decided to do the only thing we can do with this very unpleasant farm neighbor. We’ve given him a name.  We named him Lil’ Mach, both because he is the machoest bird we’ve ever known AND because he is just a little much. 

Here’s hoping the clutch he’s protecting only has females in it. 

Cheers and enjoy your veggies! 
Farmer Cassie