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Swooping alert: Magpie parenting has Canberrans on the run

By Glynis Quinlan - 3 September 2017 11

Magpie swooping. A still photograph from the ACT Parks and Conservation Service video.

You are out walking on a lovely sunny day when a wooshing noise starts above your head. Woosh, woosh, WOOOSSHHHH. Suddenly you have become the victim in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller ‘The Birds’. A sharp pointy beak descends with speed and makes harsh contact with your skull. Blood oozes. You run!

Sound familiar? Yes it’s magpie swooping season in Canberra again and the black-and-white bombers are on the job.

For those of us with vivid memories of being swooped by magpies, this news may be greeted with a quiet tremor of terror.

In my case, it takes me back to my teenage horse-riding days when I was regularly swooped passing a row of trees on the way to the horse-paddock.

However, my scariest magpie moment was when I was actually riding my flighty horse bareback (as in the horse, not me) and the magpie swooped us both. The fear of those flapping wings descending was nothing compared to the challenge of holding on to a bolting terrified horse!

Now you may be getting the feeling from all this that I’m not too keen on magpies (I know our readers are smart!). However, for the sake of all those Canberrans who love magpies and even feed them, I should make it clear that I wish magpies no harm.

After all they are just trying to protect their young and I am a deep admirer of good parenting skills. Actually, I am thinking of coining a new term in honour of magpies.

You’ve probably heard of ‘helicopter parenting’ where parents continually hover around their children? Now let’s add to that the term of ‘magpie parenting’, where parents go on the attack against unsuspecting passers-by just on the off-chance they might suddenly decide to harm their children.

After all, we never really know when someone might turn into an evil maniac with our children in their sights and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

But enough of all this flapping around and black-and-white conspiracy theorising. What do we do about it being magpie swooping season?

The answers come from our friends at the ACT Parks and Conservation Service who have put together this great ‘swooping season’ video (below) which is jam-packed with good advice.

It's that time of year again…

Posted by ACT Parks and Conservation Service on Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The video recommends that Canberrans take these simple measures to protect themselves if there is a swooping bird in their neighbourhood:

  • wear a hat
  • wear glasses to protect your eyes
  • wear a helmet
  • walk your bike and don’t run
  • take an open umbrella on your walk
  • keep your eyes on the bird (apparently this makes them less likely to swoop)
  • use a leash if you’re walking your dog
  • if possible, take a different route.

But wait, there’s more! If you feel inclined you can also help to protect other unsuspecting walkers, runners and cyclists by ‘dobbing in a magpie’ via the magpie alert website: https://www.magpiealert.com/

This is our nation’s social website for keeping track of aggressive magpies. You can share your attack stories online and have the location of your attack marked on the ACT map – found here.

Since the 2017 swooping season started, magpie attacks have been recorded in Amaroo, Belconnen, Holt, Hackett, Fraser, Hawker, Lyons, Phillip, Greenway, Flynn, Deakin, Evatt, Cotter Road, Yarralumla, Forrest, Acton, Kambah, Braddon, Calwell, Campbell, Weston, Pialligo, Gordon, Moncrieff, Scullin, Barton and Curtin.

Most people appear to have been cycling when the attacks happened and two cyclists recorded being injured when they were swooped in Acton and Barton. A walker was also injured by a swooping magpie in Campbell.

“Big magpie here. Big hit to the head from behind whilst riding my bike, causing slight whiplash,” reported the injured Acton cyclist.

“Surprise attack from behind always goes for left side of head. Snapped at my earlobe today but didn’t draw blood as I was wearing ear warmer,” reported the injured Barton cyclist.

“Was walking very slowly and magpie swooped me multiple times – this bird swoops every year and last year chased me to my front door 2 streets away from its nest and cut my head open. Unbelievably aggressive creature. Pls keep children away,” reported the injured Campbell walker.

So far this year, magpie attacks in the ACT have made up 9.1 per cent of total attacks throughout Australia reported to the Magpie Alert website. This is more than the number of attacks in South Australia (5.4 per cent) and around half the percentage of attacks that have occurred in the much more heavily-populated area of Victoria (19.3 per cent).

Which all goes to show that we have some busy magpies in the bush capital!

Have you been swooped by a magpie recently? Do you have any tips on ‘hot spots’ to avoid or ways to protect yourself? Let us know about your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

What’s Your opinion?


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11 Responses to
Swooping alert: Magpie parenting has Canberrans on the run
carnardly 6:23 pm 09 Sep 17

it’s not that bad. if you know there is a magpie in the area simply put one arm above your head and wave it around. well, you might feel like a goob but it’ll generally back off. it won’t stop them swooping but it might just prevent it slam dunking the back of your head. If you’re worried, carry an umbrella.

it’s only for 50-60 metres generally. and usually you hear the clack or the wings first. or am i just one that could be at peace with the angry birds. lol

Maya123 6:01 pm 08 Sep 17

Leon Arundell said :

Anyone who thinks that helmets deter magpies should watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wHreVKgOT4

But at least with a helmet (and wrap around glasses) you can ignore the magpie and cycle on. Even if they hit you they are unlikely to do harm. One good hit from the magpie into the helmet, has been my experience, enough to dissuade them from another hit. They are more likely to come off worse. (Unless you panic!)

I had one dive my car once. It hit the roof. I glanced back to see the concussed bird staggering along the road.

Leon Arundell 8:42 am 08 Sep 17

Anyone who thinks that helmets deter magpies should watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wHreVKgOT4

Roksteddy 10:36 am 06 Sep 17

Glynis Quinlan said :

While people do advise making eye contact with magpies I must confess to being scared to do this – as I am worried my eyes will be pecked by a magpie I’m not looking at! I actually prefer to keep my head down if I’m near a place where I know magpies swoop. There is such a wide variety of views about magpie swooping season and whether magpies are harmless or scary. I think that is probably because there are a wide variety of magpies out there – some friendly and not very intimidating and some down right aggressive. A bit like people really!

Yes, all magpies are different. Some will swoop. Some won’t. Some will make contact, others won’t. Some only attack dogs, some only people, some only cyclists. MOST won’t attack if you make eye contact but some will, as evidenced by the one that attacked my son as he made eye contact, gashing his eyelid. That one was particularly problematic and had to be put down.

Yes, they do remember people and won’t swoop those that have befriended them. If they are intent on swooping though, good vibes won’t protect you.

ColdGen 8:29 am 06 Sep 17

As a former postman and target of magpies I was always amazed at how good they can fly – and fast too. You had to time the lights changing on Ginninderra Drive just right – or you were a dead man! Must have been funny for the car drivers to see a postie weaving about with a magpie at full tilt just a metre or so behind them at 60kp/h+.

Brooklynite 3:47 pm 05 Sep 17

I’m a little concerned by the suggestion that one should maintain eye contact with these birds. I know I speak for many of my colleagues when I say I would rather treat you for an abrasion or laceration to your scalp (or head in general), than see someone with an eye injury.

Glynis Quinlan 1:01 pm 05 Sep 17

Thanks for the comments on my article. While people do advise making eye contact with magpies I must confess to being scared to do this – as I am worried my eyes will be pecked by a magpie I’m not looking at! I actually prefer to keep my head down if I’m near a place where I know magpies swoop. There is such a wide variety of views about magpie swooping season and whether magpies are harmless or scary. I think that is probably because there are a wide variety of magpies out there – some friendly and not very intimidating and some down right aggressive. A bit like people really!

Maya123 8:52 am 05 Sep 17

Richard Everson said :

maternal magpie.

From what I have read it’s generally the male that attacks, due to a huge increase in testosterone in the breeding season. Although maybe sometimes the female attacks too; thinking about a time I had two magpies attacking me at the same time, from opposite directions. Or they might have both been males? Magpies have extended families that assist in the raising of the latest offspring.

Richard Everson 2:56 pm 04 Sep 17

Hi Glynis,

Great piece, a couple of comments.

Magpie parenting – Whilst I’m yet to experience ‘Magpie parenting’, I have no doubt it’s a thing!. Whilst humans can choose how they behave, I think the swooping response is a very instinctive thing for a magpie and not triggered by malice.

Lucy Baker’s comment – I would definitely challenge Lucy’s suggestion that putting out a friendly vibe will protect you. I have been swooped by the same bird over two Spring seasons. On my first encounter, I was quietly jogging, oozing calm and goodwill and wearing nothing more threatening than a black baseball cap, when a magpie chose to swoop me. After observing her behaviour over these past two years, I know her nest is situated high up in a tree on the other side of the road, about 50 meters from my closest approach. Whilst a fierce protector for a few weeks every Spring, we get on fine for the rest of the year. This behaviour strongly informs my view that this behaviour is based on instinct.

In conclusion – I do my best to avoid my friend’s patch during Spring and endorse the advice you included in your piece. And Lucy, whilst a friendly vibe and eye contact will go a long way in everyday life, but I wouldn’t recommend them as protection against a maternal magpie.

dungfungus 2:40 pm 04 Sep 17

Lucy Baker said :

Magpies don’t swoop people they like the look of. And they remember individual humans for years. The more you weird out with spikes, scary anonymising sunnies, threatening sticks etc, the more likely they are to swoop. Just put out a friendly vibe and make eye contact and you should be fine.

“Magpies don’t swoop people they like the look of.”

That’s discrimination.

Lucy Baker 12:58 pm 04 Sep 17

Magpies don’t swoop people they like the look of. And they remember individual humans for years. The more you weird out with spikes, scary anonymising sunnies, threatening sticks etc, the more likely they are to swoop. Just put out a friendly vibe and make eye contact and you should be fine.

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