29 August 2019

Here's the swoop: Magpie season descends on the Capital

| Lachlan Roberts
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Brace yourself because magpie swooping season has begun. File photo.

Nearly every Canberran has had a run-in with a swooping magpie.

I have unpleasant childhood memories of the territorial magpie that spent every spring in the gumtree in the front yard of our family home. Checking the mailbox turned into my least favourite chore as a black and white bird would swoop me as I ran down the driveway.

Well according to Magpie Alert, swooping season has officially arrived with 52 reports of “attacks” in the nation’s capital since 22 July. Cyclists, joggers and people walking their dog have not been spared by the bird.

ACT Parks and Conservation’s ranger Mark Sweaney said his earliest memory of being swooped was at preschool.

“There was a magpie near our playground at preschool and it only swooped when we climbed onto the highest part of the playset,” Ranger Sweaney recalled. “I remember a kid being badly injured once when it swooped and cut his ear.

“Seeing that creates a very distinct memory when you are in preschool.”

Sweaney and his fellow rangers at ACT Parks and Conservation are well-prepared for another swooping season and they hope it doesn’t replicate the 2017 season.

“The number of birds swooping is usually consistent each season but as Canberra grows with more suburbs there are more reports of birds swooping,” he said. “What is really important to us is to make sure people are not injured.

“Last season was pretty good compared to 2017 where a few birds in Gungahlin would start swooping food out of kids’ hands.”

Usually, magpies start swooping from late July for about eight weeks while they build nests, lay and protect eggs and raise nestling and fledgeling birds. Not all magpies will swoop but most will as swooping as a natural instinct to protect their territory and their young.

Think of it as a magpie’s version of helicopter parenting.

“Basically at this time of year, there is a change in the magpies because they have got young and they are very protective of their territory,” Ranger Sweaney said. “It has been recorded that even magpies without young can swoop probably due to the seasonal change or hormones and testosterone.

“Canberrans should embrace it though because it is a sign of spring. It is great to have a healthy population of birds throughout the city and it’s only for a brief time each year.

“It’s all part of living in the bush capital.”

People can protect themselves from swooping birds by:

  • walk through the bird’s territory quickly, don’t run
  • take a different route next time
  • protect your head with an umbrella, hat or helmet
  • wear glasses to protect your eyes
  • watch the birds while walking away quickly from the area – magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them
  • protect your pet and do not leave them alone or off-lead in an area with a swooping bird
  • don’t let your pet attack birds as this may trigger swooping
  • attach a flag or streamers on a stick to your bike or backpack and
  • walk your bike through the bird’s territory, don’t ride.

If there is a territorial magpie in your neighbourhood, contact Access Canberra on 13 22 81 and rangers can determine whether warning signs need to be installed.

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I love magpies EXCEPT my mate’s pet magpie. They rescued the magpie when it was young and injured and now lives inside their house in the bush. It can be handled by his whole family but if anyone else enters the house it will try to take their eyes out. The best watchdog ever. Luckily I wear glasses because it has had me bleeding from just above my right eye. It was cute when it was young…..not so much now.

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