Life Relationships Magpies swooping? You should try making friends

Magpies swooping? You should try making friends

Magpie on fence
A swooping magpie startled an elderly NSW cyclist who veered off a path to avoid the bird and crashed. Photo: ABC
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Forget fake eyes and spiky helmets – if you want to avoid being attacked by magpies, just make an effort to be friends with them.

Swooping magpies are common in Australia at this time of year, as male birds attempt to protect eggs and chicks in their nests from predators.

Official government websites give tips to avoid being swooped and a crowdsourced online map tracks reports of swooping magpies nationwide.

Some people go to great lengths to deter magpies from swooping, wearing fake eyes on the back of their head to fool the birds into thinking they are being watched.

But a magpie “will only swoop when he doesn’t know somebody”, said Gisela Kaplan, emeritus professor in animal behaviour at the University of New England and author of Bird Minds.

“We know that magpies remember and recognise human faces and they will remember them for years,” Dr Kaplan told ABC Radio Melbourne.

Watch magpie swooping season tips from the ACT government:

Magpies are ‘like dogs’

Dr Kaplan said that once a magpie knew you and judged you to be a nice person, you would have earned a friend for life.

“They will form very long friendships, like dogs,” she said.

“They will introduce their young [to you] and they will be the most charming birds.

“Even during the breeding season you can come close to them because they know you’ll do no harm.”

On the other hand, if you are mean to a magpie it will bear a grudge for a long time.

Schoolchildren and others who wear a uniform may suffer the consequences if someone else wearing the same uniform has attacked the bird or thrown stones at them.

And if you haven’t yet had time to make a magpie’s acquaintance, you can avoid being attacked this spring by keeping your distance from nesting areas and not running if you are swooped.

The Victorian government warns against feeding swooping birds lest it encourages the behaviour.

Listeners tell of feathered friendships

It seems that despite their reputation for attacking passers-by, magpies have many fans – and we’re not just talking Collingwood supporters.

ABC Radio Melbourne listeners contacted the station with stories of their black-and-white feathered friends.

Katherine said she had a good relationship with a family of magpies that lived in her area.

“We leave them out a tub of water in the heat and a few snacks in the cooler months. They can remember faces and we have never been attacked.”

Janet from Mount Martha said she was regularly visited by magpies seeking snacks.

“We’ve had a pair of magpies live around our house for 17 years and we’re very fond of them,” she said.

“They bring their babies every year and then send them away when they’re around nine months old.”

Another listener said they made friends with magpies when they lived in Monbulk in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges.

“I used to put a speaker out in the garden when I was working in it. A magpie used to come down and sing to it.

“When my dog died the maggies watched me bury him, then within half an hour the whole family came down and sat with me.”


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