July 4, 2015
Five months after I was born in Starbuck, Minnesota, my family moved to Southern California. Every couple of years, we would come back in the summer to visit my grandparents.
One of the first things my mother always said after crossing the state line into Minnesota was, “Oh, look! It’s the redwing blackbirds!”
While not the state bird of Minnesota (contrary to popular misconception, neither is the mosquito; the common loon is), the redwing blackbird is iconic to the reeds and marshland of Minnesota’s lake district. To my mother, they were both talisman and tonic—an unmistakable sign that she was home.
What she didn’t tell us is that the redwing blackbird is also aggressively territorial. We never encountered that from the sanctuary of our station wagon back in the 1950s and 1960s. But in the last four days as we’ve worked our way west and north from Minneapolis toward Fargo, North Dakota, several of my BTUSFMS teammates have been shadowed, harassed, and their bike helmets actually attacked and pecked by these small, fierce birds.
One of my teammates told me the size of each nesting pair’s territory is roughly the distance between two power poles. So just as we’d safely reach the end of one territory, we’d enter another.
The lessons of timing and tolerance and always wearing a helmet are everywhere…