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Nasty Nesting : Blackbirds End City Hall Siege in Beverly Hills

June 19, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

A handful of Brewer blackbirds seized the north lawn of Beverly Hills City Hall late in May and held it until their fledglings grew up and flew away last weekend.

Defending their territory with outraged peeps and swooping dives onto passers-by, the birds caused no injuries, but hairdos were ruffled and nerves were unsettled.

Similar attacks were mounted on Westwood Boulevard, where blackbirds nested in a building three blocks south of Wilshire Boulevard.

Bashed by Bird

"This bird came fluttering into me and lightly bashed into my head," said Randy Levitz, a Westwood resident. "I kept walking and looked back and saw people behind me in the same general area swatting the air with their arms."

Later, she said, a witness told her that a woman was so surprised when the birds pecked her that she fell down while getting out of her car.

"It was very frightening at first but after a while we got used to it," said Beverly Hills Mayor Charlotte Spadaro. "We all put something on our heads when we went in and out."

While the birds have been seen in the area before, this was the first year that they have caused problems at City Hall. City Council members, the city manager and the police chief were among the victims.

New Routes Required

"Everybody rerouted their way out of City Hall," said Mark Scott, director of environmental services. "Nobody went out the north door to go to lunch any more."

The birds, members of the species Euphagus cyanocephalus, are known for their fierce behavior while nesting.

"The Brewer blackbirds, while not quarrelsome among themselves, are extremely unfriendly toward people, dogs, or cats that pass near their nests," said Harriet Williams Myers in her 1922 book, "Western Birds."

"Very often they choose the shade trees along the street and when any one passes beneath, they fly down and pick them on the head, dart about their ears, keeping up their harsh calls as they do so, and flirting their long tails in indignation. Dogs, as well as humans, are glad to escape this tirade."

Mel Odom, director of public services, said ficus and cypress trees that were planted to landscape the new parking lot last year may have provided roosting places.

"We asked a pest control company to come out and see what could be done to dissuade them, but they said they couldn't help," Odom said last week. "They said we should wait them out."

The birds, which are numerous through most of the West, were named by 19th-Century ornithologist and bird painter John James Audubon after his colleague Thomas M. Brewer.

Fighter Tactics

They range from 8 to 10 inches in length, according to the Audubon Society's "Master Guide to Birding."

The adult male is entirely black, with a purple iridescence on the head and a green iridescence on the body. Its creamy white or pale yellow eyes provide a striking contrast to the ebony plumage.

The female is dusty-gray in color, with a greenish gloss on its feathers and dark brown eyes that flash as she scans her territory for intruders.

Perched atop a cypress or a lamp post overlooking the parking lot at city hall, the Beverly Hills blackbirds used tactics reminiscent of jet fighter pilots.

'Doing What Comes Naturally'

They would take to the air and fly around in a holding pattern until their victims looked the other way, then swoosh down for the attack.

Although reminiscent of "The Birds," an Alfred Hitchcock film in which the entire avian population turns on the human inhabitants of a small town, their comrades in Beverly Hills were more restrained.

"They are only doing what comes naturally--trying to protect their young," said Olga Clarke of the Los Angeles Audubon Society. "They're not singling out people per se, but people are deathly afraid, ever since they saw the Hitchcock movie."

Randy Levitz said she, too, thought of the late director when the birds attacked. "If he could see this he'd be laughing," she said.

Not much can be done to remove the birds, pest control experts said. Simply breaking up a nest is not likely to be effective, since the birds would most likely return and nest again elsewhere nearby.

If they perched on buildings, a sticky silicon substance known as Roost-No-More might be used to discourage them.

"But when they're in the trees we tell (customers) there's nothing we can do," said Rod Maker, a branch manager at Holden Pest Control in Glendale.

Now that City Hall has bid its blackbirds bye-bye, officials hope that something can be done to keep them from coming back.

Protected by Law

"Thank God it's going to be OK again, but I hope in the future we take some measures," Spadaro said. "We've got to dissuade them because it becomes very frightening for people."

Although the Brewer blackbird is not rare or endangered, it comes under the protection of the Fish and Game Code, a spokesman for the state Fish and Game Department said.

"If you're going to shoot a bird, it's got to be a game bird," said Pat Moore, information officer for the department.

"Other birds can be eliminated under permit if they are causing problems, but a warden has to be satisfied that they're definitely causing harm," Moore said. "I don't see a warden handing out a permit just because a bird is doing what comes naturally."

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