There’s nothing more terrifying than a magpie launching an aerial attack. Here’s how to stay safe this swooping season.
It’s the first day of spring, but before you revel in the glory of early blooms and celebrate all that nature has to offer, just remember this: Nature is out to get you.
It’s no secret that we live in a country teeming with dangerous creatures, but the most imminent threats are not deadly snakes or poisonous spiders — it’s the black and white beasts of the sky known as magpies.
According to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, magpie attacks can lead to bloodied ears and cheeks or even eye injury. The risk of eye injury means all magpie attacks need to be taken seriously.
Bird Removal Services wildlife specialist Bryan Robinson says it’s important to understand magpie behavior, and that sometimes a little patience is needed during swooping season. However, he also stresses that it’s important not to risk your personal safety and call for help if you need it.
According to Robinson, from around the beginning of August through to as late as November, a small percentage of breeding male magpies become highly defensive, displaying what he calls “aggressive behaviour towards anyone that enters their established nesting territory”.
“We’ve had about 25 calls already this season, but it’s still early and we’re expecting a lot more in the next three to four weeks,” Robinson says. “We usually get around 180 to 200 calls for assistance with magpies each season. Not all of those calls result in the relocation of the bird. We asses the situation and remove the bird if necessary.
“Our priority goes to schools and parks, anywhere where there might be children or families in danger. These open areas are favored by magpies so we get a lot of calls for these places. Just this year we’ve done bird relocations in Ipswich, Caboolture, Indooroopilly, Ashmore and Kedron.
“Don’t risk your safety. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Some people cop a lot of flack for getting magpies relocated so they might be afraid to make the call. But relocation in no way hurts the bird.”
A magpie will only defend its nest within a ‘defence zone’. For pedestrians, this is usually an area within 110m; for cyclists, it’s 150m. Almost all swoops on people are carried out by male magpies defending their eggs and chicks, which are in the nest for about six to eight weeks between July and November, with peak swooping season falling in September. Magpies often become more aggressive as the chicks become older, but swooping usually stops once the young have left the nest.
A magpie’s defensive behavior can range from a non-contact swoop with or without beak snapping, through to pecking, dive-bombing and sometimes front-on attacks from the ground.
How to stay safe in swooping season
It’s all about the accessories
Wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses or shelter under an umbrella to protect your face from swooping magpies. Painting or sticking large ‘eyes’ on the back of your hat can also deter magpies —but this won’t work for cyclists.
Don’t fight back
Don’t fight back if a magpie swoops. Throwing sticks and stones or yelling at a magpie is only likely to make it more aggressive next time anyone enters the defence zone around their nest.
Safety in numbers
Avoid ‘defence zones’ by taking alternative routes during the breeding season. But, if you must enter a ‘defence zone’, magpies will be less likely to swoop if they are watched constantly, or if people walk in a close group.
Hands off the chicks
Never approach a young magpie. Fledglings that have just left the nest or have fallen out are likely to be under the watchful eye of a parent. If you pick them up or get too close, the parent bird may think you are a possible predator and become defensive in the future. If you believe they are at risk, wait until after dark before you pick them up and place them back in a tree or nest.
Seek professional help
If a magpie that is defending its nest becomes aggressive and a risk to human safety, the magpie may, in some instances, be removed. Contact your local council to see if they have a removal program. Alternatively you can obtain the details of your nearest licensed magpie relocator from the Yellow Pages. Magpie removal is a commercial service and a fee is usually charged, typically paid by the complainant or landowner.
Have you had a magpie encounter? Let us know in the comments whereabouts in Brisbane it took place.