Safely Spring into Magpie Season
by KickStartCQ on 8th October 2013
With Spring comes sunny days and warmer weather which encourage everyone to enjoy the great outdoors. Unfortunately as we become more active after the cooler months, so too do our feathered friends. The magpie breading season, from July - December sees the birds become protective and very territorial. KickStartCQ has put together 7 tips to help you enjoy the beautiful Spring weather without being bombed by the black and white birdies.
Be vigilant - Pay attention to nesting areas of magpies. If you see magpie nesting activity occurring in an area where you walk or cycle, it is time to plot a new route for the nesting season. Magpies occur in both urban, country and rural settings, so don't be complacent.
Never harass magpies - A magpie that has experienced harassment will cease to trust humans. Do not throw rocks or other projectiles at a nest, do not climb a tree and try to remove magpie chicks from the nest and do not provoke the magpies in any way, such as swinging clothes around in the air near them or similar fast-moving and threatening actions. Remember that the magpies are fiercely family protective and will react if they feel the chicks are threatened.
Take evasive action - If you find yourself walking or cycling through magpie swooping territory and it is simply too late to back out, take evasive measures to protect yourself:
- Keep calm. This is the most important thing - do not yell, flap your arms about and run off screaming. This is a panicked reaction and is the worst thing that you can do. Unfortunately, it is something children often do, so train them early to keep calm.
- Walk quickly but do not run. Be careful, keep your eyes out for magpies and if you are really concerned, place your folded arms above your head to protect your head and eye area.
- Try to keep your eye on the magpie. Magpies usually swoop from behind and it is known that magpies are much less likely to swoop if they are being watched directly. This means the magpie must be able to see your eyes looking towards him. As you walk away, try to maintain this eye contact. You can also try walking backwards but only if the path is clear or you may injure yourself by tripping over something.
- If you are on your bicycle or horse, dismount. Bicycles irritate magpies the most and this includes the local postie delivering the mail. The major cause of accidents following a magpie swoop is from a bicycle. Your helmet will protect you and you will not be distracted while riding by a bird swooping in your face. Walk the bike quickly out of the vicinity of the magpie.
Do not return after an encounter - Australian magpies have an incredible memory (as with all members of the Corvid family, they are very intelligent) and will attack the same people again and again. It is also too bad if you happen to look like someone they attacked before.
Improvise solutions - If you have no choice but to continue using the magpie's area (for example, farmers rarely have a choice to leave an area alone for 6 weeks), then it is time to use some techniques to protect yourself. Some suggestions include:
- Wear eyes in the back of your head. No, this is not a joke! For the reason provided above, it is following the reasoning that magpies are less likely to attack if you are looking at them. To this end, add fake eyes to your headgear to make the magpie think you are watching it from either side of your head. Craft store bought eyes are ideal - stick them on and remove them when not needed. Another trick is to wear your sunglasses back to front.
- If you are riding a bike the helmet can be used to mount a number of bright zip-ties. By not cutting the excess length you create a bright distracting display that many people find more effective than fake eyes, or use them in combination with fake eyes.
- Convert an ice cream container into a hat. Staple some elastic to the sides to make a chinstrap and pop it on your head. If the magpie swoops, it hits plastic and does less damage.
- Wear a solid hat.
- Use an umbrella or stick. If you have an umbrella, open it up and walk with it. The added bonus is that it keeps off the sun too! If you have a stick, simply hold it up to make yourself look larger. If the magpie attacks, it will likely go for the highest point - your stick or umbrella. Under no circumstances should you wave objects at the magpie or he may feel provoked and will attack you. A branch with leaves can be good as the movement of the leaves in the wind might be discouraging to the would-be swooper.
Be aware that Magpies are aggressive - magpies can attack from the ground, aiming for the face and eyes. These are problem birds and you should alert the Parks or Environment Department in your State or Territory immediately. If you encounter a bird in this situation, cover and protect your eyes no matter what else and move yourself out of the situation.
Have a heart - These birds are highly intelligent and family-loving. Their birdsong is uplifting and this is not even mentioning how elegant a bird they are. Sure, swooping can be a bother for 4 to 6 weeks of your life each year but it is a small price to pay for helping to sustain a beautiful part of the Australian wildlife. Co-existing with magpies is easy to do once you understand how and when you are prepared. It is only a small proportion of magpies who see humans as a threat and resort to swooping and even then, only within a limited territorial area.