Ever had to do the backyard dash or make a run for it across a park to avoid a dive bomb? Well, Spring has officially arrived so it’s dive practice time for those darned maggies.
The enemy strikes when you least expect it and you almost never hear it coming. These beautiful but fierce birds that attack us are usually male and protecting their nest and young while impressing their partner. But then you have to go to the clothes line or take a walk to the shops with that irresistible, veritable target on your head and guess what happens.
It’s a common sight across Australia which led Nick Cilento to study a magpie breeding season and write about his findings for his Honours thesis for Griffith University. He also conducted a survey of 5000 people and their magpie experiences. The results showed that 96% of men had been under fire from the feathered missiles while only 75% of women had been swooped upon. And common targets are often bicycle riders, joggers and posties.
one man told him he’d been attacked as a boy and the same bird was still dive bombing him 25 years later.
But what Nick found was that only around one in 20 mating pairs of magpies attacked humans. And of these, there was only a small number that were really aggressive. This leads Nick to believe that individual birds have had their feathers ruffled by particular people and they’re very selective about who they target. He said one man told him he’d been attacked as a boy and the same bird was still dive bombing him 25 years later.
Nick says individual magpies’ behaviour is predicable, with the birds responding to people according to what they’ve experienced. However, female birds appear to only be concerned with humans when their babies are vulnerable and on the ground.
And it also seems to be an urban-based problem that offers magpies repetitive stimuli. Nick noted little reference to the classic Australian dive bomber in Aboriginal mythology.
So, what’s the answer to an arch nemesis swooping at you from on high each year? Flaying your arms around might get you a peck on the hands instead of the head, but you’re fighting a losing battle. And no throwing stones either – these birds are Australian native wildlife and as such are protected so they are not to be harmed.
Perhaps the best philosophy is the one about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer. In other words, make friends with them. While feeding magpies isn’t encouraged, you could try leaving out treats like boiled egg, plain cheese, wheat germ and parsley. But make sure the magpies don’t become dependent on these as their sole food source. A bowl of water to drink would be welcome and or one big enough to bathe in could see you become best buds instead of sworn enemies.