Brace yourself, Canberra: magpie swooping season begins
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Brace yourself, Canberra: magpie swooping season begins

When bird breeding season starts in spring and angry magpies start indiscriminately swooping at the innocent - kids, dogs, cyclists - Canberrans may be left wondering whether Hitchcock's nightmares came true.

One black-and-white bomber has already claimed a scalp in Gungahlin according to the website Magpie Alert.

A swooping magpie in Canberra. It's that time of the year again.

A swooping magpie in Canberra. It's that time of the year again.Credit:Katherine Griffiths

User Geoff Barnes recorded an injury when walking to work two weeks ago, with the magpie drawing blood despite his wearing a hat.

The website has recorded 38 attacks since early July.

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In the city, one tenacious Collingwood mascot - or maybe multiple magpies - have set up shop on Bunda Street near the Canberra Centre, with five attacks recorded on cyclists since late July.

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ACT Parks and Conservation's ranger in charge, Simon Stratford, said magpies could get protective of the area they were nesting in.

"Magpies start swooping during breeding season," Mr Stratford said.

"It's generally the males that do the swooping. Basically their testosterone goes through the roof."

But it's not just magpies out for blood, but currawongs, peewees and plover birds.

Mr Stratford said he had seen some pretty aggressive peewees, or magpie-larks.

"We've had a couple of incidences of people going to hospital with injuries from peewees or magpies," he said.

He said he had seen peewees stopping people from using outdoor eating areas.

Mr Stratford said currawongs, which resemble magpies except their white feathers are only around the tail, didn't show the consistent hovering magpies did.

"Currawongs are bigger and come at you from long range," he said.

"Peewees, they creep up on you a bit more."

Plover birds nested on the ground and once they swoop they'll come at you faster, Mr Stratford said.

He warned Canberrans not to panic when they were swooped, especially if they were cycling or walking near traffic.

"One of the big risks is some people do get quite frightened by swooping birds. They tend to lose their concentration, we just encourage people to stay as calm as possible," Mr Stratford said.

The ACT government website said Canberrans could expect to be swooped from July through to December as birds build nests, lay eggs and raise their young.

Government's tips to stay protected

  • Walk through the bird's territory quickly, don't run.
  • Take a different route next time.
  • Protect your head with an umbrella, hat or helmet.
  • Wear glasses to protect your eyes.
  • Watch the birds while walking away quickly from the area - magpies are less likely to swoop if you look at them.
  • Protect your pet and do not leave them alone or off-lead in an area with a swooping bird.
  • Don't let your pet attack birds as this may trigger swooping.
  • Attach a flag or streamers on a stick to your bike or backpack.
  • Walk your bike through the bird's territory, don't ride.

The Magpie Alert site adds the following:

  • Keep alert and look for magpie nesting sites.
  • Keep an ear open for calls.
  • If you get swooped tell others, log the attack here and tell the ACT government.
  • Do not provoke the magpies, they are very territorial and will protect their nests.
  • Try making friends with the magpies by feeding them with raw mince; some suggest cat food works too.
  • Stay calm, if you panic and flap then this is more likely to appear aggressive behaviour and provoke a further attack.
  • Protect your eyes with your hands; the large beaks are very sharp and eye injuries have been recorded.
  • Magpies seem to have very good memories and have attacked the same people over subsequent seasons and others they just leave alone. If a bird has attacked you before use an alternative route next season.

For more advice on dealing with swooping magpies call Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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