W-H-O-O-S-H… here come those damn magpies!

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The Australian magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen… at its worst during mating time.

WITH magpies out and actively swooping, DANIELLE NOHRA has compiled a swoop scoop on why magpies swoop, when they swoop, what to do when they do, and what not to do.  

CANBERRA cyclists, walkers and runners have already started to report swooping magpies in the territory, some since late June. 

According to magpiealert.com, Canberrans have reported more than 70 swooping magpies since June 29, with four people saying they’ve been injured. 

One person, a cyclist, reported to have been “quickly swooped” on an unnamed path in between Lady Denman Drive and the Molonglo River. He was only swooped once, but said the magpie had clipped his ear and cut the skin on the side of his head. 

Another cyclist reported an injury from a magpie on Ratcliffe Crescent, Florey, saying the bird had scratched the side of their face. The wound, which was described as small but deep, was bad enough to see a doctor, the cyclist said (ouch!).

Why do magpies swoop?

WHOOSH 

Wind brushes over the top of your head and you turn just in time to see black and white feathers making a u-turn, back your way for a second go. Yep, it’s mating time for the Australian magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, which usually means that male magpies will be protecting their nests from about August to October. Described as Australia’s most accomplished songbirds, magpies suddenly don’t seem so musical, when they’re clicking their beaks making another attempt to swoop. But the good news is that only about 10 per cent of breeding males swoop humans, and a majority don’t come close to physical contact. When they do, though, it’s because they might see a human as a threat, and will usually swoop them within a 50-metre radius of their nest. Swooping lasts about six weeks and magpies will stop when their chicks leave the nest. 

How to avoid swoopers? 

The best way to steer clear of swooping magpies is to avoid any areas where magpies are known to swoop. It’s easier said than done, and often, cyclists, walkers and runners don’t know there’s an aggressive magpie nearby until they come face-to-face with one. So, what then? Here are some of the top tips to avoid swooping magpies:

  • There’s safety in numbers. Magpies often target individuals, so if there’s a choice to walk in a group, it’ll likely deter a swooping magpie. 
  • Bike riders beware! It might seem easy to quickly speed off when under attack while riding, but advice says otherwise. Experts recommend getting off the bike and walking (never run), saying magpies will usually stop swooping if you do. 
  • Protection is key. Wear sunglasses and a broad brimmed hat (or helmet for cyclists) to protect your eyes and your face from brave magpies that are willing to come close. Umbrellas work, too. 
  • Make eye contact. Magpies are said to be less likely to swoop if you make eye contact while quickly walking away from the area! Some people even sew eyes on the back of hats, or wear their sunglasses on the back of their heads to scare off magpies. 
  • Don’t aggravate them. Magpies will see you as a threat if you wave your arms and shout at them. They also have great memories and are said to be able to remember a face for up to five years, which is more of a reason not to get on their bad side! 
  • The food dilemma. Often people try to win over swooping magpies with food, but organisations such as PETA recommend against feeding magpies and other wild birds. Magpies are good at finding their own food and can become sick if they eat old seed or processed foods such as bread. 

There’s more to magpies than swooping

Magpies are a lot more interesting when they’re not flying, at speed, towards you, and magpies, like most Australians, love the sun and will often sunbake when they get a chance. 

They’re also territorial all year round, not only during spring. They’ll usually find a patch of land with plenty of grubs and worms, spending much of their time listening to them moving under the earth. When they find a good spot, they’ll stay there for life, which is usually about 20 years.

magpiealert.com

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is the assistant editor of "CityNews".

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