The (Napa) Birds: Blackbirds fiercely defend nests at Bel Aire Plaza shopping center | Local News

Beware Napa Bel Aire Plaza shoppers, especially anyone passing by Peet’s Coffee.

A family of blackbirds have been dive-bombing people — even landing on their heads — in efforts to guard at least one nearby nest.

Unlike in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film “The Birds,” these blackbirds aren’t out for blood. However, anyone walking between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s seems to be fair game for the flying fowl.

On Wednesday morning, this reporter and others enjoying their morning coffee watched the birds circle around the patio area. Whenever someone got too close for comfort, one to three blackbirds would swoop down from a nearby perch, wings flapping, claws extended.

The birds would either execute a very close fly-by maneuver or even briefly touch down on people’s heads. As this reporter soon found out, when a blackbird unexpectedly perches on your head, their claws don’t hurt and they don’t draw blood, but it certainly is startling.

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The baby birds are likely located inside bushes on columns near Peet’s Coffee and the next-door barbershop, explained shopping center regulars.

“They like people with buns in their hair,” said Napan George Moskowite, who met some friends on Wednesday for coffee outside Peet’s. The birds even seem attracted to certain colors or patterns. “If you’re wearing red plaid,” watch out. 

Moskowite said he’s seen the blackbirds attack humans hundreds of times, usually during the spring and summer nesting season.

Other locals are crying foul.

“They’re mean,” Napan Sonyia Grabski said about the birds. “You can’t turn your back on them,” she warned.

Grabski said the birds have made contact with her at least 10 times over the past two years. “We’re just kind of used to it,” she said.

Did she ever think about meeting for coffee at an alternative site, some place free of angry birds?

No, Grabski said. “I like the coffee,” the company, “and it’s entertainment.”

While observing the bird habitat for about an hour, this reporter witnessed about a dozen bird-versus-human sorties. Sometimes the birds only furiously flapped their wings at the offender’s shoulders or head. Other times, the birds touched down on the victim’s head, sometimes lingering for several seconds, much to that person’s chagrin.

Maureen Book of Napa was minding her own business when one blackbird came to rest in her short brown hair. “I was just walking to Peet’s and all of a sudden I felt something on my head,” she said. “I tried to brush it off, and I thought, ‘What was that?’” 

She’s never been attacked by a bird before, Book said. “It was sort of funny,” and then “I asked if there was sh** in my hair,” she added with a laugh.

Napan makes hundreds of free bird houses

This Napa man had made, and given away, up to 1,000 birdhouses — all for free. 

Napan Gene Dick said that the blackbirds have pecked on him “at least 10 times.” His coffee group, made up of veterans, watches and counts the number of so-called strikes. He described the amount of bird activity on Wednesday morning as normal for this time of year. “It’s been a good day for the birds.”

Nick Sanza of Napa said one of the most memorable bird encounters came when a bird tangled with a woman and got caught in her tresses. 

“Two guys had to take the bird out of her hair,” Sanza recalled.

Wil Tallman, who regularly meets a group of Napa High School alums at the outdoor tables between Whole Foods and Peet’s, said Wednesday was the first time he’d personally been ambushed by the birds.

“I was just walking out to look at a car” parked next to the walkway when the bird grazed his head, said Tallman. “It startled me,” but “then I knew what it was.”

Mark Stephenson, president of the Napa-Solano Audubon Society, said the birds at Bel Aire Plaza are most likely Brewer’s Blackbirds. They breed all throughout California, he noted.

He was surprised to hear the birds have been making physical contact with humans.

“It’s kind of unusual for them to land on your head,” Stephenson said.

However, “birds are territorial especially when they are nesting,” he added. “And so if people are right by their nest, they might fly in and try to move you away from the nest.”

Stephenson had this advice for shoppers that encounter the blackbirds:

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 707-256-2218 or [email protected]