FORT WAYNE — The little guy is a one-man air assault unit – swirling and dipping, diving and pecking at every single person who dares to venture down his little curve on the Pufferbelly Trail.
Somewhere, invisible to the joggers and the stroller-pushers and the dog-walkers, is a nest, home to its mate and their eggs. This red-winged blackbird’s job, one it clearly takes very seriously, is to defend it.
And its relentless activity creates a nearly Hitchcockian scene for all those who have the temerity to be near that nest.
Posted at either end of the small curved section of the trail near the Parkview Family YMCA are two signs, warning passers-by that the bird is there and that it is aggressive. Authorities, whoever they may be, have been notified but have said nothing can be done.
Exercisers, pass those signs at your peril.
Nearly every jogger, walker and in-line skater Thursday was dive-bombed by the irate and chattering male red-winged blackbird, defending that nest from the obvious dangers of the mobile and exercising.
The bird swirled and chattered, spread its wings and hissed and, more often than not, aimed that beak at the back of a jogger’s head, giving a quick peck before swooping back into a tree.
Underneath the tree where it waited in the foliage, a pair of nesting mallards seemed unperturbed by the foot traffic. Butterflies flitted about in the late spring sunshine, but the blackbird was on a mission.
Deb Pesick and Laurie Carter walked past the area Thursday afternoon and the bird swooped down on them, so close Carter could feel its wings.
They laughed as they talked about it farther down the trail. Many times on the trails, they have seen signs posted to warn of aggressive nesting geese, but nothing ever happened.
“I didn’t get pecked,” Carter said, “but I was surprised at how aggressive it was.”
Evelyn Lennart came prepared, armed with a baseball hat she swung at the bird as it dived toward her head. She had been warned, she said, by her daughter, who had been pecked in the head about two weeks ago.
Laura Michmerhuizen got pecked Thursday. Even though she and her friend were aware of the bird’s presence, it still got a shot in as they walked past the little marsh where it waited.
“He’s mad today,” Michmerhuizen said, laughing as she touched her head near where the bird pecked her.
Aggression is not uncommon in red-winged blackbirds, said Neil Case, a volunteer with the Merry Lea Environmental Center of Goshen College.
But the pecking and the physical contact in which this bird is willing to engage are quite unusual.
Case spent three years studying the protected songbirds – banding babies in a thousand nests – and he can remember only about four times that the males pecked him in defense of the nests.
As with nearly all songbirds, the nests of red-winged blackbirds are protected under federal law and it would be against the law to disturb them, Case said.
Trail users are just going to have to wait the bird out.
After the female – distinctive in its drab coloring from her orange-decked mate – lays three to six eggs, the chicks will hatch in about 12 to 14 days.
It can take up to another two weeks for the chicks to be ready to take flight and leave, Case said.
“The young will leave the nest, and it will all be over,” Case said.