26 September 2023

Swooping magpies: Call in the experts

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As Canberra enters the magpie swooping season, the Australian National University (ANU) has flown in one of its experts to share tips on how to survive the season unslashed.

Postdoctoral Fellow at ANU’s Research School of Biology, Chaminda Ratnayake recommends locals adopt the Avoid, Minimise Damage and Inform strategy.

“If you have an inkling of where the swooping magpie’s nesting tree is located, steer clear of it for a couple of months,” Dr Ratnayake said.

“If you have to cross into a swooping magpie’s territory, it’s important to accessorise,” he said.

“Wearing a hat and sunglasses will help to protect your head and face.”

Helmets adorned with cable ties are a popular choice for cyclists during swooping season, but Dr Ratnayake cautioned against any modifications that might compromise the protection helmets in the event of an accident.

Although the tell-tale rush of air as a magpie dives in the direction of your head can be intimidating, he said it was important to resist the urge to panic and flee.

“Running or cycling away is not a good idea,” the Postdoctoral Fellow said.

“Most recorded injuries occur when people try to avoid being attacked – especially when cycling.”

He said people being swooped should bend their elbow and bring their forearm close to their head to protect their face.

Dr Ratnayake suggested people make a note of where they were swooped and warn others by recording the attack on Magpie Alert.

He said anyone who was injured and believed the magpie was a serious threat, could file a report with the ACT Government, but he reminded Canberrans that magpies are a protected species.

“If you’ve been swooped multiple times by the same magpie on different days and found yourself wondering if you’re being personally victimised, the answer is probably yes,” Dr Ratnayake said.

“Magpies can recognise individual faces,” he said.

“Once they identify a single person as a threat, there may be a tendency to swoop or attack them during the breeding season close to the nesting area.”

Dr Ratnayake said that in this situation, it’s probably best to concede defeat and find another route, at least for a few months.

“Swooping season can be a nuisance, but remember, the magpies are only trying to protect their babies.”

Magpie Alert can be accessed at this PS News link.

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