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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Red-Winged Blackbirds Attacking People Along Lakefront Are Just Protecting Their Nests, Experts Say

"Caution" signs have gone up along the lakefront to warn people of the return of the red-winged blackbirds, sometimes referred to as "nature's a--holes."

A black bird (on light post) sits above a sign cautioning against "attacking birds" at Loyola's Rogers Park campus.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago. Inset: Flickr/KristinChicago
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ROGERS PARK — Not everybody is happy the lakefront is open once again.

“Caution” signs are going up along the Lakefront Trail, warning people of red-winged blackbirds. The birds — sometimes referred to as “nature’s a–holes” — are known to aggressively dive-bomb people.

At Loyola University’s Rogers Park campus, school officials put up a sign reading “CAUTION!! ATTACKING BIRD” on a walking path near Lake Michigan. The sign reads “singular” bird because facilities officials think it is one bird who has nested on campus and is “swooping down on campus visitors,” Loyola spokesperson Anna Shymanski said.

“We understand this is done out of protection for its nest and is common at this time of year,” she said.

Similar signs have been spotted near the North Pond in Lincoln Park and elsewhere near the Lakefront, neighbors said on social media.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A red-winged blackbird.

Red-winged blackbirds are among the most common birds in Chicago and the United States and are frequently a nuisance during nesting season. But their dive-bombing antics aren’t just to annoy people.

“When this happens, the birds are defending a nest,” said Doug Stotz, ornithologist and senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum. “It’s a conflict between a lot of people versus a lot of nesting birds.”

Joggers and other lakefront-goers have been attacked by red-winged blackbirds for years. That’s because the birds like to nest near bodies of water, and the males are quite aggressive at defending their nests, Stotz said.

The birds are known to dive-bomb pedestrians. Typically, they just swoop down, but they will sometimes attacks people, Stotz said. They can draw blood, as he can personally attest to. They are most aggressive when there are chicks in the nest, which is usually the case in June and July, he said.

The problem of red-winged blackbirds may be more noticeable this year because of the pandemic.

Last summer, the birds had the lakefront largely to themselves, with beaches, running trails and Loyola’s campus mostly closed to the public.

Now that those amenities are again open — with people flocking in droves and perhaps forgetting how to interact with nature — the birds may be extra defensive this year, Stotz said.

“I can see this year being worse to some degree because last year was probably better,” he said. “They lost that privacy. The beaches are probably more crowded than they’ve ever been.”

The problem will likely last through July, Stotz said. But there are so ways to protect yourself against swooping birds.

For one, the birds tend to swoop down at people by themselves versus those in a group. That’s why joggers have been frequent targets.

The birds are also likely to attack from the rear. So if you suspect there is an irritated blackbird in your midst, try to keep them in front of you, Stotz said.

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