A scene straight out of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film “The Birds” is becoming a common occurrence along the Deschutes River in Bend.
Joggers on the river’s trails and bridges are being dive-bombed by angry black birds, who wildlife officials say aggressively protect their nests each spring.
The swooping birds flap around and have hit people on the head. No injuries have been reported from the attacks, but the encounters are startling.
Bend resident Anna Dooley was on an evening run June 4, crossing the bridge over the Bend Whitewater Park as she headed to Fusion Fitness, when she felt something snag her hair, which was up in a bun.
Dooley, the 24-year-old digital marketing coordinator at Central Oregon Visitors Association, was perplexed because it felt like her hair got caught on a tree branch — but there weren’t any trees nearby.
When she walked home from the gym, Dooley felt another tug on her hair. This time she saw the culprit: a Brewer’s blackbird hovering 5 feet above her head. Then, two more blackbirds swooped in and grabbed at her hair. As she continued across the bridge, the three birds followed her for a few feet, before finally letting Dooley leave.
“I was definitely in shock,” Dooley said. “I didn’t expect them to be so aggressive. They swooped and tried to grab my hair and were hovering. They were almost taunting me as I walked out of their vicinity and finally they left me alone.”
Other joggers in the area have reported aggressive red-winged blackbirds, although Brewer’s blackbirds are seen more often. Brewer’s blackbirds are known for their aggression during nesting season.
Julie Brown — communications and community relations manager for Bend Park & Recreation District, which oversees some of the parks where the blackbirds are protecting their nests — said the district has not received any complaints, but it’s aware of the birds’ behavior.
One of the attractions to the Deschutes River Trail and nearby parks is their connection to nature, and for a short time in the spring that slice of nature includes overly protective birds, Brown said.
The parks district wants people to stay alert during nesting season, but has no plans to take any action, such as installing warning signs.
“The riparian areas along the river are a natural place for the wildlife and for people to be interacting,” Brown said. “It’s something that is probably going to be an annual situation for folks to be aware of their surroundings and be careful this time of year.”
After the three birds swarmed her last week, Dooley immediately called her roommate, who had a similar encounter on a pedestrian bridge in the area two weeks earlier.
Dooley’s roommate was walking over the lower bridge when a Brewer’s blackbird flew down and got caught in her hair.
“She could feel the talons,” Dooley said.
The distressing experience has made Dooley rethink running around that part of the river. She is now finding new routes to her gym, sticking to neighborhoods away from the river.
“You get paranoid that they are going to keep doing it,” she said. “They are not scared of you.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org