SWOOPING SEASON IS upon us again. In terms of frequency of attack, magpies are among the most prevalent perpetrators of human-wildlife conflict in Australia.
Magpies will often pick specific targets, such as male children, posties, cyclists, or even particular breeds of dog. The behavior is learnt and is often to do with a past bad experience of an individual bird, which may have previously been bullied by children or harassed by a dog
Magpie attacks begin in September across Australia and continue for about six weeks while the birds are nesting, typically after hatching and before chicks first fledge the nest. It’s always the male birds that attack, and they swoop at perceived threats within about 80m of their nests. Intriguingly, less than 5 per cent of nesting males display the swooping behavior, but those that do are vigorous in the defense of their young and may attack as many as 50 victims in a day.
Recent research has shown that magpies are smart enough to recognize people’s faces and may take a dislike to a person and victimize them repeatedly. Magpies stake out a particular territory and may live for 20–30 years, and it’s possible they recognize many of the people that pass through that area.
Various methods have been suggested to avoid attacks – such as carrying an umbrella or wearing an ice-cream container. But the best strategy is to avoid the problem area during the six weeks that attacks are likely to occur.