Story and photo © Wildlife Queensland

Did you know that the morning chorus of the magpie is considered to be the most complex song of any bird? At this time of year, with the looming threat of a magpie attack, it can be hard to appreciate this fact.

Between the months of August to November some magpies swoop in order to protect their chicks while they’re in the nest. The intensity of the attacks increases as the chicks grow, but stops as soon as the chicks leave the nest. Usually only the male magpie of a pair swoops, and surprisingly they have lower testosterone levels than non-swooping males. If a female attacks she will most likely be the mate of a swooping male.

Research by Darryl Jones, Ecology lecturer at Griffith University and author of Magpie Alert, has found that only about 10% of magpies swoop and only 35% of all people passing are swooped. These findings support the notion that magpie attacks are not random, in fact they are selective.

Magpies are very intelligent and have long-term memories enabling them to distinguish between individual people. It is for this reason that some people under certain circumstances will find themselves a target. For example, strangers to an area are likely to be recognised and possibly considered to be a greater threat to the chicks. Alternatively, people who have done something the bird perceived to be a threat (such as throwing sticks climbing the nest tree), may be seen as especially ‘dangerous’. In any case there are ways to avoid or minimise the extent of magpie attacks.

Bike helmets decked out with protruding zip-ties are all the rage for cyclists at this time of year. They are trendy and practical, helping to distract and deter magpies as you pass through their territories. Painting large eyes on the back of your helmet can help too, although this method is considered to be more effective for pedestrians where eyes are painted onto a broad-brimmed hat. However, they do need to be as realistic as possible. Holding an umbrella or long stick above your head can also offer some protection.

The best way to avoiding being swooped is to avoid places where magpies are breeding. Areas that are known to have aggressive magpies present are commonly signed. If you become aware of an area that is prone to magpie attacks that is not already signed you can notify your local council or parks and wildlife service. Never intimidate magpies as this simply makes them more aggressive.

Surviving the Magpie Season is possible.

  • Avoid areas with aggressive magpies
  • Attach zip-ties to your helmet
  • Paint large eyes to your helmet of broad-brimmed hat
  • Wear your sunglasses on the back of your head
  • Carry an umbrella over your head

With this information you can relax and enjoy the spectacular song of the magpie all year round.

For further reading refer to Magpie Alert: Learning to live with a Wild Neighbour by Darryl Jones, published by UNSW Press.2002.

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