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Surviving magpie swooping season in Lake Macquarie!

It’s that time of the year again when we witness locals wearing bike helmets with cable ties pointing skyward, acting as a spiky crown. Definitely a classic Australian tradition this time of year. If you know of magpies nesting nearby, then you’re also aware of their planned attacks. Magpies are well known in Australia for becoming swooping birds when they’ve young in their nests.  

Australian children’s author, Pamela Allen, wrote a book I frequently read to my kids when they were young. ‘Waddle giggle gargle’, the magpie shouts. Jonathan and his family came up with a very unusual type of defence against the magpie that swooped their whole family. So what can we do to stop being attacked when out and about in Lake Macquarie? Let’s be prepared this season.

 

How to identify a magpie

Magpies are easy to identify, with their black head, belly, tail, and their distinct white splodges. You can always recognise a magpie’s distinctive call as an Aussie icon, especially during the warmer months. Did you know that magpies are good mimics? They’re able to mimic over 35 different species of birds as well as other animals including dogs, horses, and even the chatter of humans!

 

Magpie breeding season

Magpies breed from the end of July, but you really tend to notice them around September and October when they start protecting their young. It’s the father that tends to swoop with only about 10% of all magpie Dad’s demonstrating this behaviour. Sadly, this gives a bad rap to all magpies. The rest of the year they are a joy to watch, digging for insects or catching small animals such as skinks or frogs in your garden. Magpies are a gardeners friend eating the scarab beetle that can make a mess of your lawn!

 

Intelligent birds

Magpies are actually incredibly intelligent birds. Did you know that magpies can recognise human faces? If you live in a home where there is a magpie nest in a nearby tree, as long as you’re not a threat to the magpies they’ll treat you as one of the family. They generally won’t swoop and will feel safe in your presence. You’ll be able to enjoy watching them teach their young how to find food and survive out of the nest. It’s beautiful to watch such diligent parents.

 

Magpies remember like elephants

Magpies have amazing memories. If they have had a bad experience with someone in the past they will remember this. If a child has thrown a stick at them, they may be fearful of all children. They tend to have a fear of cyclists too. It’s thought that this is because cyclists travel at a speed which means the magpie can’t see a face.

 

How to avoid being swooped

What can you do to avoid being targeted by our feathered friends? If you know there’s a nest located in a nearby tree with a swooping magpie try to avoid it. Magpies tend to swoop from behind catching your ears or eyes. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Wear a broad-brimmed hat or a bicycle helmet to protect your ears and head. You can carry an umbrella to put over your head, if you don’t have one handy you can hold up a stick. Make sure you don’t wave it around though as it will be seen as a threat. Try and build a relationship with your magpie. Talk to it as you walk past. 

 

Some other things you can try:

  • Do not stop, walk quickly out of the magpie’s territory
  • Magpies are less likely to swoop if you eyeball them
  • Wear sunglasses on the back of your head
  • Try wearing a hat with eyes on the back of it

 

Protected species

Magpies are a protected species in NSW. You can not kill a magpie, collect their eggs or harm young magpies. If you have a magpie that you feel is a serious threat you can report it to Lake Macquarie council or get in contact with the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Magpies are a native bird to Australia and we should do everything we can to protect them, particularly while they protect their young. Enjoy watching and listening and seeing them grow.  We’re so fortunate in Lake Macquarie to be able to enjoy so much natural beauty around us. And remember, it’s only for a month or two.

 


 

References:

Swooping magpies are just trying to be ‘good dads’, expert says {Accessed 2/9/20}

What can I do about aggressive birds swooping? {Accessed 2/9/20}

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