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Birds No Longer Scared of Us

Attacks on humans by gulls and buzzards are increasing, meaning some birds may be learning to fear us less. Other birds are adapting to our presence by changing their songs, so they can be heard above the traffic noise.

Simon de Bruxelles writes in the Times of London that buzzards have been divebombing walkers and even attacking people in their cars. Experts say they're protecting nests in nearby trees.

Former Royal Air Force Captain Richard Bridges, 69, had to be taken to the hospital after suffering wounds in the head. He's been attacked twice, and was chased off by a flock of five birds a third time.

Gulls have been attacking visitors in a resort town in Cornwall in the U.K. People are used to them swooping down to grab food out of their hands, but now the gulls seem to have become smarter and more ruthless. They line up on rooftops waiting for unsuspecting victims to come walking along carrying snacks.

Sharon Arthurs-Chegini had her lunch stolen when five gulls swooped on her from behind. She says, "It was exactly like something from [the movie] 'The Birds.' They work in groups. One of them snatches the food while the others go for you. There were wings and beaks all around me. They didn't draw blood, but one did peck my hand. It was terrifying."

Peter Exley, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, says, "There is evidence that some gulls are becoming less scared of humans?an animal that has lost its fear can be dangerous. They've got a 2 inch beak and they will use it."

Maybe they're trying to get us to shut up so their eggs can hatch in peace. Helen Briggs writes in bbcnews.com that urban birds are creating new songs in response to the noise of the city. Great tits, a common British bird, are singing at a higher pitch in order to be heard above the traffic noise. Biologists say this is the first known case of a wild bird changing its song to cope with the modern world.

"One reason behind the success [of urban birds like the great tit] may be because they can adjust the signal that is crucial in breeding," says ornithologist Hans Slabbekoorn. "Other species that lack such flexibility in their songs may perish or lose the opportunity to breed under noisy conditions."

A Note: On July 20, Whitley Strieber was attacked by a hawk while walking down a street in Los Angeles, where he was on a business trip. He was unhurt, but had to run to escape the hawk.

Maybe birds and humans need to get together and talk about their problems.

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