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'Safe until next year': Barrage of annual red-winged blackbird attacks finally ending

red-winged blackbird squawking
Posted at 10:39 AM, Jul 26, 2023

MENASHA (NBC 26) — In Menasha, signs have gone up in the last week to warn locals of nesting redwing blackbird attacks. But according to Sweet Lair employee Erin Parbs, the signs are late.

“For the last two weeks, I haven't had any problems. But for a while there it was like every single day unless it was like raining,” Parbs said.

Sweet Lair is a bakery and board game cafe in downtown Menasha. And just around the corner, trees that have housed migratory blackbirds have been a major source of anxiety since about mid-June.

“It's scary. Like, I had one fly at my face. I was standing under the parking garage and there was one in the alleyway and I was like 20 feet away from it and I looked at it funny and it flew at me.”

red-winged blackbird warning sign downtown menasha
A sign in downtown Menasha warns people about nesting red-winged blackbird attacks.

Parbs said she also experienced the birds teaming up in their confrontations too.

“There'd be one on top of the building and it would see you and start screaming. And then like you keep walking and you'd see another one in another tree — and that's the one that attacks you,” Parbs said.

But despite the aggressive behavior, Parbs said she's only heard of one person actually getting pecked. The birds will fly at the heads of passersby, but they'll swoop up and past at the last second.

This behavior has been annoying and exhausting, and Parbs said she hasn't missed having to run from her car to her workplace.

“I think that we're safe until next year,” Parbs said.

Heckrodt Wetlands Reserve Naturalist Andrea Bierbrauer said Parbs is right. The nesting season is ending.

But the reason for the constant conflict is that the birds prefer to nest close to trails and parks — where there are higher amounts of foot traffic.

Bierbrauer said the birds aren't being aggressive so much as protective.

“They tend to get a little more protective than some birds,” she said.

But if a bird does pick a fight with you, Bierbrauer said: don't fight back.

“They are migratory birds, so they are protected by the Migratory Bird Act,” said Bierbrauer.

The birds' nesting season typically ends around late July. But the cycle begins again next spring.

“Every March is, ‘Oh the red-winged blackbirds are here; Spring is finally here.’ To me, that's my first sign of spring,” Bierbrauer said.