This is the bush capital: Give the wildlife a break
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This is the bush capital: Give the wildlife a break

Today is the first day of spring. This means it's time to talk about the magpie "menace" once again.

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The pint-sized songsters, who must surely rank among Australia's most intelligent, articulate, entertaining and lyrical birds, are always in the news around this time because of the measures they take to protect their young from the predations of the featherless biped.

They are certainly within their rights to do so in the ACT. We have, in recent years, seen many of our black and white neighbours either euthanised or forcibly relocated.

This can manifest itself in occasional attacks on passers-by who come too close to the nest for comfort.

While the residents of most rural cities and towns know the creature voted "Australian Bird of the Year" in 2017 can go a little loopy during the breeding system and just get on with their lives, Canberrans take such behaviour as a personal affront.

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Reading some of the Facebook posts from the local magpie haters you could be excused for thinking that for at least four months of the year this city was under daily attack by either Smaug from Tolkien's "Hobbit", the reptilian anti-hero from the 2002 movie "Reign of Fire", or both.

It's ironic given most of the time we pride ourselves on being the "bush capital", clucking and cooing over ducklings in the moat at the Shine Dome; quite rightly cudgelling the ACT Government over the annual kangaroo slaughter, feeding the backyard Gang Gangs and penning letters to the editor defending high country brumbies.

The good news is the ACT Government, which has hopefully learnt from the negative reaction to its "cull" of allegedly dangerous magpies at Gungahlin's Yerrabi Pond in 2015, seems to be adopting a more rational approach to dealing with troublesome birds.

It has just released a communique urging city-dwellers to establish a detente with their local magpies.

The message appears to be that when it comes to a choice between peaceful coexistence and mutually assured destruction the former should prevail.

Daniel Iglesias of ACT Parks Conservation Services correctly points out the vast majority of birds don't actually attack. The figure is less than one in 10. The vast majority of these are males whose testosterone spikes while the hatchlings

A Canberra magpie feeds its chicks.

A Canberra magpie feeds its chicks.

Photo: Joy Lemon

are on the nest.

He notes the birds are highly intelligent and can identify and remember individuals.

"If a magpie feels threatened, its instinct will be to swoop the intruder," he said. "When people harass magpies [in response], it encourages increasingly aggressive behaviour."

Tips to avoid being swooped include walking though magpie territory (as opposed to running); walking bikes through magpie territory (rather than proceeding at speed); avoiding nesting sites by taking a different route and, just in case, wearing a hat or helmet and glasses while walking, running or cycling at this time of year.

"If there is a territorial magpie in your neighbourhood, contact Access Canberra," he said. "Rangers can determine whether warning signs can be installed."

Come on Canberrans. The birds were here first and they are a magical part of our lives. Let's just live and let live this spring and summer.