Avoid angering these protective Aussie parents
Each spring, as the days gradually begin to grow longer and the weather warms up, many birds begin to build their nests and lay their eggs.
Their number includes Australian Magpies.
Spring is renowned as the time when some breeding magpies start to swoop at passersby, both on foot or riding bicycles, as well as dogs and anything else that moves.
But what’s unusual is that this year they’ve started swooping early, a month or more ahead of schedule!
This year there have been numerous records of magpies swooping at people across eastern and south-eastern Australia, including in Townsville, Emerald, Hervey Bay, Sydney, Canberra, Mildura, Melbourne, Geelong and Adelaide, since early July.
Although it is an early magpie swooping season this year, it should be noted that not all magpies swoop at people.
In fact, it is generally quite a small proportion of them that are aggressive towards humans.
Most of the birds that attack are males, though, indeed, most male magpies don’t attack, and those that do usually only become aggressive when people venture too close to the nest tree.
Although the timing of swooping behaviour varies between the different regions of Australia, most swooping activity occurs in mid-to-late spring, during the brief period when there are magpie chicks in the nest, with the intensity of attacks increasing gradually as the nestlings grow.
Few magpies attack before their eggs have hatched, and the attacks usually drop off after the chicks have fledged (left the nest).
It’s a brief window, but one that can be traumatic for people being swooped.
There are a few things you can do to prevent being swooped, but nothing is guaranteed to work:
- The most sensible method is to avoid walking or riding near trees where magpies are nesting.
- If you can’t avoid the area, try wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella for protection; cyclists can attach a forest of cable-ties to their helmets.
- Attach eye spots to the back of your hat.
- Wave a stick above your head as you walk past.
- Keep an eye on the bird; he’s much less likely to attack if he knows he’s being watched.
- Above all, don’t harass the birds. Though tempting, it will only make them more aggressive. And remember, harming magpies is against the law.
There is a Magpie Alert website which has is a map where you can zoom in to your local area to see if a swooping attack has occurred near you.
You can also record an attack that you have experienced to alert others of the location of an aggressive Magpie.
For more information, head to the Magpie Alert website here.
Allan Briggs is the Secretary of BirdLife Capricornia. You can contact him with your bird questions at email@example.com