I was just settling in to weed the shade garden under the wild black cherry tree, when I noticed an errant overhanging lilac branch and raised my clippers into it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a robin – a robin! – dive-bombed me, bopping me on the head and pooping on my cheek as it flew away. I had an extraordinarily close-up view of a wing and a red breast for probably half a second, and was so startled I dropped the clippers.
And then I started laughing. Here I was with my large size (compared to a bird) and my sharp pointed tools, but the robin easily won. When you’re been pooped on by a bird you absolutely have to stop what you’re doing and go wash it off. It might not be effective against other predators, but it was an adaptation well tailored to human-bearing suburbs.
Once I was cleaned up, I went back out to see where the nest was; because the only thing that could motivate a small bird to attack something like me, was danger to its offspring. The nest was about ten feet from where I raised my clippers. I wanted to be sure so I could stay clear of it, and not upset such a devoted parent again.
I’ve watched robins dive-bomb the eagle when he sat too near a nest, and I thought they were very brave. Knowing my own intentions, I don’t think of myself as a potential threat – but how would the robins know my intentions? How would any creature? They guess, and they err on the side of safety. It’s so easy to be wrong.