Mockingbirds and Why They Attack
Question: I have recently moved here and have mockingbirds tormenting my family and our pets. What should I do?
Answer: "The Birds", a Hitchcock horror film from yesteryear or a modern day nightmare. It seems that residents throughout the county are having the same problem so you are not alone. Although bird attacks are not a common occurrence, some of Florida’s birds are known to occasionally become aggressive. Birds may attack humans, pets, wildlife and other birds, so don’t take it personally. Attacks are usually short-lived, but it may be helpful to understand what an attack is, why birds behave this way, which birds to look out for, and what you should do.
Bird attacks usually consist of swoops, dives and chases. Other forms of attacks include vocal castigation from perching birds, many birds ganging up on the victim, or intentional defecation or regurgitation on the victim. In the spring and summer birds establish territories, build nests, and rear young. This is the time for most bird attacks. The birds are simply trying to protect their homes, mates, and young just as any of us would do for our family. Larger birds, ducks, and geese become accustomed to being fed. If a human enters that normal feeding area the ducks may come quickly to that area expecting food. This may look like an attack to an unsuspecting person. Words of advice: don’t feed these larger birds. Some of these birds become aggressive in their begging and may actually chase, hiss or peck at the humans. Believe it or not, this technique, known as a conditioned response, was used to train the gulls and crows in Hitchcock’s thriller. Attacks can also originate out of fear if the bird is startled in some way, but attacks are usually more of a defense as aforementioned.
Which birds attack? In South Florida, mockingbirds, least terns, burrowing owls, nighthawks, crows, blue jays, and domestic waterfowl are the most likely to attack. Pigeons, doves, and woodpeckers may look like they are attacking when they are returning to their nests in the eaves of buildings. If threatened, a bird will attack any human or animal. Birds may even attack things that show their reflection. Try placing a mirror in your garden, this may provide hours of entertainment.
If you are attacked, the first thing you should do is decide what provoked the attack. Are you close to a nest? If so, avoid that area for the duration of the nesting season and advise visitors and children to do the same. Hatchlings are usually fledged in two to three weeks. When the young are on their own, the parents will stop attacking. Is there a baby bird around? Parental instincts make parents continue to defend their young for a few days after leaving the nest. If a baby is hopping around the yard, it is probably still under the care of the parents and should be left alone. Is the bird sick or injured? If this is the case, be extremely cautious. Approach smaller birds from the rear, cupping gently in both hands. For larger birds, use a towel to drape over the animal before picking it up. Very large birds should be left alone, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission can assist.
These are the most likely reasons for attacks, and the only defense is avoidance. You can use scare tactics early in the spring to prevent the nesting of certain birds near your house, but if they are there this year, wait a few more weeks. This bird behavior, however annoying or disruptive, is only temporary and is a small price to pay for enjoying the rest of the wildlife that call our county home.
Shannon L. Ruby is the Natural Resources/Agriculture Agent with the University of Florida/IFAS and Lee County Extension Service. To submit questions, call 461-7515 between 9am and 4pm or send questions to 3406 Palm Beach Blvd. Fort Myers, FL 33916-3736 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.