Magpies coexist peacefully with Canberrans for about two-thirds of the year, crammed together in the city by its tree-lined streets and leafy parks.
Starting last month, the relationship grows more strained as the birds begin to swoop their neighbours and drive them out of their territory.
Cyclists have started taking precautions with cable ties protruding from their helmets, as nesting season turns urban-dwelling magpies into aggressive protectors of their fledglings as early as July and until as late as November each year.
ACT government senior ranger Nadia Rhodes has been in town for 13 swooping seasons, and, like many, has memories of being swooped walking to school. She's starting to receive phone calls from people wanting advice.
Magpie Alert website users have recorded 15 swooping incidents across the city so far, including two in Greenway and two on Cotter Road near Equestrian Park.
Ms Rhodes said magpies wanted to threaten, rather than harm, those passing their nests while they protected their young.
"They're only doing what any other parent would do for their young," she said.
As their babies readied to leave the nest, magpies got more aggressive, Ms Rhodes said.
The clicking sound magpies made while swooping wasn't their beaks, but their wings, and the birds usually aimed to pass just over the top of people's heads.
Ms Rhodes recommended anyone passing an aggressive magpie wear a hat or helmet, or take an umbrella for head protection.
"It might not look the coolest but it will certainly protect you," she said.
Magpies were bothered by people travelling at speed, and cyclists could avoid angry birds by getting off their bike and walking past the nest.
Protective magpies tended not to swoop if they were being watched, so keeping an eye on them while passing could also help.
If possible, it was best to avoid areas known to have aggressive magpies altogether.
"If you can go a different way for a few weeks, then you can avoid the problem completely," Ms Rhodes said.
Here are the ACT government's tips for protecting yourself from swooping birds:
- 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 and
- walk your bike through the bird's territory, don't ride.
The Magpie Alert site adds the following:
- Keep alert and pay attention for any magpie nesting sites.
- Keep an ear open for their distinctive calls.
- Remember magpies are urban species too, so there is generally no escaping them.
- If you get swooped then tell others, log the attack here and inform 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 and some readers have suggested cat food works too.
- It is important to try to stay calm, if you panic and flap then this is more likely to appear as aggressive behaviour and provoke a further attack.
- Try to protect your eyes with your hands, those 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 it's attacked you before probably a good idea to use an alternative route next season.
For more advice on dealing with swooping magpies call Access Canberra on 13 22 81.