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How to avoid a magpie attack

It's spring time and magpies are in attack mode like this angry bird in Newcastle.

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Sydney is in the midst of a real-life game of angry birds - and these creatures have cyclists, runners and even small children in their sights.

There's one family the kids have got different hats on and the mother had a towel over her head as they try to get past the magpie 

"This thing is drawing blood," one school principal complained recently.

Fearless ... size doesn't count for a magpie protecting its nest.

Fearless ... size doesn't count for a magpie protecting its nest. Photo: Kylie Pickett

An expert even warns that we should treat these feathered fiends like lions, tigers and bears.

It all sounds a bit Hitchcockian, but these aren't bloodthirsty evil birds - they're just magpies, who are fulfilling their role as "policemen of the bush" in the peak of nesting season.

That means for a four-week period while their mates' eggs hatch, the male magpie will fearlessly take on anything of any size that encroaches into his territory.

Under attack ... a male magpie takes exception to a motorised human intruder on its territory in Lambton in NSW.

Under attack ... a male magpie takes exception to a motorised human intruder on its territory in Lambton in NSW. Photo: Darren Pateman

Professor Gisela Kaplan, who has been studying magpies for decades, said female magpies incubated their eggs between August and September while their male mate-for-life played sentry.

"It's in his interests to guard her and protect her and guard the nestlings. He needs to do a good job or she would actually divorce him ... and find another male." (Read more about magpie habits here)

View Magpie attacks in a full screen map


We took a look at some of Sydney's swooping hotspots, as suggested by smh.com.au readers.

Heathcote High School

One fearless magpie has been attacking teachers, students and parents as they walk alone near the school's gym for about a month.

"This thing is drawing blood," school principal Geoffrey Dodds said.

"We've had a parent come to the door one afternoon and say 'I've just been attacked by a magpie' and she turned around and there was blood streaming down the back of her neck.

"She had to be treated in our sick bay.

"It's certainly not a bird that's scared to take on anybody."

Magpie warning sign

The swoopers ... students at Heathcote High School know magpies well. Photo: Geoff Dodds

At one point there were four attacks in two days, with some students having skin on their scalps and ears punctured.

Mr Dodds has sought permission from National Parks and Wildlife to have the bird destroyed.

"I didn't go seeking the order lightly, because by and large you try and avoid these things by walking around the area.

"But unfortunately this bird has set itself up beside the school's gym and then it just chases people; it's gone well beyond the pale of ordinary magpie attacks.

"But it got to the point where I couldn't ignore it any more."

National Parks and Wildlife said it gave permission for the magpie to be killed by a trained exterminator, but the order was withdrawn because there is an ongoing review of the permits after community concerns.

"So we'll just keep looking up and keep waving our arms and using umbrellas and all those sorts of things and somehow get to the holidays and hope that in those two weeks the bird will have settled down," Mr Dodds said.

"I've heard of one school where they used to issue the students with ice-cream containers [to cover their heads].

"Our kids wouldn't do it; there's no point in me suggesting it."

St Peters

Magpie warning sign

Watch out ... a Marrickville Council sign warning of aggressive magpies. Photo: Glenda Kwek

A few years ago, Marrickville Council erected an "aggressive magpies" warning at Camdenville Park in St Peters after a reported attack.

The sign, which also includes advice on how to reduce your chances of being swooped on, is the only one in the area, a council spokeswoman said.

Marrickville residents said another swooping spot was at the Petersham RSL Club's car park.

Here are the magpie danger zones you told us about:

Manly Vale

Small children and their parents run the gauntlet along Campbell Parade every morning, using sheets, towels and umbrellas to protect themselves from a magpie terrorising the neighbourhood.

Resident Vernon Leonard said his wife recently became one of the bird's victims.

"My wife has actually got a dent in her bike helmet where she got dive-bombed.

"She was a bit surprised really, because she always assumed they swooped over and went away and tried to frighten you.

"But this one obviously went straight for her head with his beak and left a dent in her bike helmet, which is quite an achievement."

Mr Leonard often sees a single angry bird swooping on parents and children as they walk to the several childcare centres along the street.

"You see parents walking along; they've got umbrellas, they've got sheets over their head.

"There's one family the kids have got different hats on and the mother had a towel over her head as they try to get past the magpie."

Mr Leonard has lived in the area for 15 years and the same spot is favoured by swooping magpies - he suspects the same bird for the past couple of years - every spring.

"He's there every year and he's there right now.

"He lives around here somewhere and it's his territory."

Mount Annan

This swooper holds a serious grudge against cyclists.

A magpie has been stalking mountain bikers on part of the Mount Annan Botanic Garden riding path for weeks, but leaves joggers and walkers alone.

The garden's horticulture manager Dan Bishop said it was the only swooping magpie in the whole of the 1000-acre gardens.

"If you're walking it doesn't bother you, but if you're on a mountain bike it gives you a lot of grief.

"It's a frightening experience, but nobody's been hurt.

"This particular one seems to have a thing for mountain bikers.

"It follows them for probably 200 metres or so while they're riding."

The magpie doesn't attack groups of cyclists or riders who get off their bike and walk along.

"We've only had the track open for 12 months and this magpie, up until 12 months ago, was in an area of our garden that didn't get heavy use.

"We're hoping that the magpie will either move away to a part where he's not going to be disturbed by the mountain bikers, or get used to the mountain bikers but it hasn't happened.

"This is the second year really that it's happened.

"It's hard to tell, but it probably is the same bird: in the same location, with the same behaviour."

How to avoid an attack

- Don't wear a shiny helmet. Shiny surfaces make magpies believe they are in greater danger. The scarier the object you wear on your head, the more a magpie feels it has to act.

- Treat magpies like bears or lions. Instead of running away, screaming or flapping your arms, get off your bicycle, move to the other side of the pathway slowly and watch the magpie.

- Make a temporary sign to warn others.

- Walk a different route - away from the magpie's territory

- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

from the NSW Environment Department and Professor Gisela Kaplan