Perception matters: protecting babies, or attacking passersby?

Perception matters: protecting babies, or attacking passersby?

A red-winged blackbird trying to scare people away from a nearby nest in Hamilton, Ontario, was featured in a photo spread in a recent edition of the Hamilton Spectator. The photos showed the bird swooping close to pedestrians. The caption read, in part, “Very territorial, the blackbird loves waterfront property, particularly during nesting season, and will attempt to scare off any passersby.”

Meanwhile, in British Columbia this headline from the CBC was shared nearly 2,000 times: Aggressive deer attacks spark warning from Saanich Police. The description of the harrowing incident in which the herbivore charged a man with his dog dominated the article. Near the bottom, however, local police indicated that deer “can become very aggressive if they are defending their young and more so if you are with a dog,” and that there were no injuries.

The story of the deer is similar to many articles seen throughout spring and summer, particularly with animals like coyotes or bears, who will show aggressive displays when their young are nearby. While reasonable that these larger animals cause more concern than a blackbird, the word choice of local media should be noted.

In the blackbird photo spread, the word “attack” is not used. In the case of the deer, and in most other similar stories, the word “attack” leads, or is found in the headline. The defensive or protective nature of these incidents is often brought up by experts, but typically kept at the bottom of the story, while the graphic and subjective accounts of the witnesses are at the top.

We can’t change the way the media chooses to report on these incidents. But we can change the way we talk about them, and writing letters to the editor, or leaving (polite and educational, not confrontational) comments on social media is an easy way to start.

Wildlife, particularly mothers, want the same things we all do: a safe place to raise our families. And fortunately, we’re able to give them that in our communities through compassionate choices, and co-existence.

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