Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Birds are bullies too

Chris Hardie

His name was Billy and he lived across the street from our family in the Milwaukee suburb of Hales Corners.


He was probably three years older than me – more like my brother’s age – but he used his larger size and status to his advantage. Billy was the neighborhood bully.


I was born in Milwaukee and we lived in Hales Corners on Byron Road until I was 6. That’s when our family moved to rural Taylor and started dairy farming.


Memories of Hales Corners are distant, but I remember Billy. He would steal your toys, push you around and coerce you to get what he wanted.


The best way to deal with bullies is to avoid them. So when Billy was outside, you went inside. If Billy was walking down the street, you walked the other way. If he took your toy, you’d hope to get it back later when he was tired of playing with it. It’s just the way it was.


But one day Billy pushed me too far. I had just learned to ride a bike without training wheels. I was riding up and down our street, enjoying the feeling of freedom and the exhilaration of riding on my own.


Billy came down his driveway and ran into the street. He grabbed my bike. A tug-of-war ensued, but Billy’s larger size and strength prevailed and he yanked my bike away.


I was mad. Billy had his own bike. He didn’t need mine. I charged and Billy knocked me to the ground. I got up and charged again. I was knocked down again – harder this time.


I got up again and ran at Billy. Perhaps it was something I said, or the look of rage on my face. Billy stopped, let go of my bike and walked away. I picked up my bike and didn’t feel the scrapes or the cut on the back of my head. I felt victorious.


I suspect that my parents had a word with their neighbors when their son came home bloodied and scraped. I don’t remember. But I do remember that Billy didn’t bother me anymore.


I could have told Billy to pick on someone his own size. But in nature – particularly among our avian friends – size doesn’t seem to matter. How many times have you seen smaller birds flying after or swooping at much larger species?


There’s a name for this behavior – mobbing. According to Cornell Labs All About Birds website, mobbers do this to drive away potential predators from a breeding territory, a nest or a nonbreeding home range.


Common mobbers include chickadees, titmice, kingbirds, blackbirds, grackles, jays, and crows. Common targets of mobbing are hawks, crows, ravens, herons, and owls.


Or eagles. Recently I witnessed some crows mobbing a bald eagle, who landed on a pine tree just down the street.


Red-winged blackbirds are notorious for going after larger mammals – like humans – if they think they are too close to their nesting site. Sometimes even different species will join forces to harass a perched predator, forming strange avian alliances to chase away the foe.


I’ve often wondered why the larger birds don’t fight back, but smaller size has its advantages in aerial combat. The smaller birds have greater maneuverability and catching a moving target in mid-air is a challenge. Any collision could send both birds to the ground.


Even when a larger bird – like the eagle I saw – is perched, they are vulnerable to a beak or a claw to the eye or damage to the feathers. So usually the larger bird moves on to a safer territory.


With this year’s unseasonably warm winter, we could have our migrating friends coming back earlier than normal. So be ready when that blackbird starts to dive bomb you.


Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].

Maybe Billy felt vulnerable to a smaller attacker all those years ago. I hoped he grew up and stopped his bullying tactics.

Crows mobbed this bald eagle that landed in a tree.

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    Evelyn FieldMar 11, 2024 at 4:16 pm

    Heinz Leyman identified bullying at work by a group of people as mobbing, or moberei. Whether a kid or an adult is the target of mobbing, it is very hard to deal with on your own