From late August through late October, magpies defend their nests by swooping on anything in their territory they perceive as a threat to their eggs or young. Those perceived threats include unsuspecting walkers, pets, and cyclists. The good news is that only 8 to 10 percent of magpies ever swoop people. The bad news is they can cause injuries. Since magpies are protected throughout Australia—it's against the law to kill them, collect their eggs, or harm their young—Australians cope in other ways during swooping season.
In my area, the state government publishes safety tips:
- Look out for nesting sites and don't provoke the birds.
- Walk through their territory; don't run. Dismount and walk your bicycle.
- Keep your pets leashed and don't allow them to chase birds.
- Face magpies as much as possible; they usually attack from behind.
- Wear sunglasses and a hat or helmet to protect eyes and head.
While I am arming myself with sunglasses and keeping our dog Milo tightly leashed, I wanted to balance my perspective by remembering the good things about magpies.
Five Fascinating Facts About Magpies
- Indigenous Australians in their Dreamtime stories credit the magpie with creating the first sunrise.
- Magpies have the most complex vocal sound of any bird in the world. It's often described as warbling, carolling, or chortling.
- They're longtime neighbors, staying in the same area for 20 years.
- Magpies have good memories and recognize faces. Many authorities advise offering a little ground beef or cat food to make a lifelong friend.
- They have inspired poetry throughout Australia's history, including this recent favorite I discovered that describes a magpie's ongoing feud with a postal carrier.