Kamikaze Blackbird

Last year I went to war with a red-winged blackbird along Edgartown Bay Road at Katama. I met him most mornings as I rode my bike. I called him the Little Red-Winged Blackbird That Gives Me Hell – only I used a different word than Hell.

I first ran into him – his version of the story, not mine – about this time last spring. I banked onto the bay road just past the old herring creek, going good into the first turn for home, and I saw a flash of black alongside me to my right. Suddenly it darted left, across my path, and I felt and heard a tiny scritch-thwap against my helmet. Crap, I thought, the bird hit me – my version, not his. But I had the wind at my back, it was just a bird, and I was going good, so I kept pumping along. Then I saw it again, this time streaking ahead to my left. About thirty yards up the road, it dropped to the pavement and began squabbling around like it had taken a bullet.

I squeezed the hand brakes and stopped. The bird was jittering around, making a real show of it. Hey, Little Red-Winged Blackbird That’s Giving Me Hell, I said, after a few moments of this: I know you’re okay. You cut in front of me and got scritch-thwapped a bit. When you want to race, stay in your lane. He stopped the squabbling act, got really still, and gave me the eye – the left one. This was his territory.

The next day, I knew he’d be waiting for me. He’d clipped himself to the top of the same stunted oak at which we’d gotten the green flag the morning before. I came up from behind, whooshed by him real close, and cried out, “Take that, Hell!” – only I used a different word than Hell. He went airborne, but it looked more like a detonation, and I heard a satisfying, startled chip! – only he used a different word than chip!

The following day he came down on me from high over Atlantic Drive, like you see Messerschmitts do in the movies. The swirling and flitting and darting and chipping right in front of my face went on for about a quarter of a mile. I stopped at the end of Atlantic Drive. He settled onto the road again. No frenzy this time. Just the still part, and he was giving me the eye again – his right one this time.

After a moment I said, I’m going to do you a solid, Hell. While you were making your point with the dive-bombing attack, I was considering whether I’d tell you about the red-tailed hawk I saw perched up on a dead oak. That’s right – that dead tree and that red-tailed hawk over yonder.

I’d like to button up this report with gratitude and playful coexistence, but I can’t. This year the Little Red-Winged Blackbird That Gives Me Hell came right back at me on a mid-March morning, ripping in from the rising sun (clever), arcing just over the top of my helmet (daring), and looping around in front of my face in a quadrant where hawks are known to perch, and that, I submit, was dumb as Hell – only I wouldn’t use the word Hell.