A Victorian man has told of the horrifying moment a magpie attacked him, leaving him with damage to both eyes.
Business owner James Glindemann, 68, was having an ordinary day eating his lunch at a park bench, outside the Gippsland Centre in Sale, eastern Victoria, when he was suddenly swooped by the bird.
“I sat down at a bench there and the magpie came up and I started talking to it because I like them,” he said.
“It looked at me and I didn’t give it any food, so it just attacked me.
“First, it struck my left eye and when it landed back on the ground, I didn’t drop my food and so it attacked me again in the right eye.”
He said Tuesday’s incident happened in a matter of seconds but the injuries were serious.
“There was some blood that was dripping at one stage and it covered my eyes … I could barely see, but I managed to find my car and I rang triple-0,” he said.
After paramedics arrived, they took Mr Glindemann to the Central Gippsland Hospital. Doctors there decided to fly him to Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne for surgery.
“It turned out there was no actual damage to the right eyeball itself, but the area around it was very inflamed,” Mr Glindemann said.
“But the magpie seems to have penetrated the cornea in my left eye and so the doctors repaired that.
“I think the procedure took about two hours.
“My vision in both eyes is blurred at the moment … but I think doctors are confident that my sight will come back.”
Eye injuries on the rise
As the spring swooping season takes flight, so does the number of injuries from bird attacks.
According to Thomas Campbell from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, it has about 60 patients a year reporting bird-related eye injuries.
While he could not confirm exact numbers, Dr Campbell said several people from the Sale area had visited the hospital for treatment in the past couple of weeks.
“There’s a wide range of injuries, from just scratches on the surface of the eye, right through to the very severe injuries where the claws of the bird may actually penetrate into the eye,” he said.
“Roughly every year we have at least one person who suffers a serious injury where they lose some amount of sight permanently … some have marked vision loss and others just lose a little bit of vision at first and require multiple operations to get their regular vision back.
“Magpies are beautiful birds that are just doing their best to co-exist with us, and unfortunately sometimes we interact with them and harm is a result of that … so I don’t think we should blame the birds entirely.”
Avoid swooping hotspots
A spokesperson from Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said swooping was a territorial trait of native birds and the season ran from late winter into spring.
“Swooping occurs every year during breeding season and is largely a defensive manoeuvre and for some species, including magpies, this is carried out primarily by males,” they said.
“Some native birds swoop humans and their dogs to defend their young for the six to eight weeks between when they hatch and when they leave the nest.”
The department recommends knowing where local swooping hotspots are, so they can be avoided if possible, and to move quickly, without running, when being attacked by a magpie.
“Cover your head with a hat, helmet or umbrella and consider drawing a pair of ‘eyes’ on the back of your hat or helmet to deter birds and also do not harass or feed them,” a spokesperson said.
“Magpies and other native birds are protected in Victoria under the Wildlife Act 1975 and it is an offence to kill, take, control or harm wildlife in Victoria.”
DELWP advises people to report swooping incidents by marking the location on Victoria’s swooping bird map.
The Wellington Shire Council was contacted for information about its policy for safety signs in high-risk areas but it is yet to respond.