You know the moment. The sun’s briefly eclipsed by a dark object. Then a shadow flits across the ground in front of you. A sinister warble, a pang of fear.

My hobbies include warbling beautiful songs and pecking your eyeballs out, sucka!

For those of us who are attacked by magpies on an almost annual basis around this time of year, the birds can seem like demonic creatures. Exercising outdoors can be tough enough on its own without a sharp-beaked hell-creature lusting to peck you relentlessly in the head.

We’re coming around to that time of year again. Queensland newspapers already have magpie maps running on their websites, an essential public service. In reading up on the avian species, though, The Punch was astonished to read there are people out there who actually like magpies.

Well, maybe not astonished. But one of the country’s “best loved” animals? Really? That’s how Professor Gisela Kaplan puts it in her book, “Australian Magpie”.

Turns out magpies have it tough. They’ve got a lot of reasons for us to feel sorry for them.

Imagine this. You’re a dad, working long days scrummaging for food (and worms). Your wife’s gone bonkers. She wants to renovate the home and conceive a baby. Your neighbourhood’s filled with criminals and your wife says, “you better bloody man up and chase them off”.

If you don’t, your wife, who you love deeply and irrationally, is going to go off with another man AND YOU KNOW IT.

That’s essentially the situation magpies have to deal with when their mates are making a nest. Tough stuff, huh.

And despite their rough attitudes towards humans, Prof. Kaplan says magpies can be some of the world’s most loving creatures (plus they’re the avian equivalent of a race of Justin Biebers).

Many homeowners have long relationships with the birds based on feeding and affection, some even lasting 20 years, Prof. Kaplan says. “Most love them dearly, they’ll even introduce you to their youngsters.”

They can be tamed too. They won’t attack you if they’re familiar with your presence (for instance: if you walk through a park everyday or they inhabit your backyard), and as long as you haven’t been mean to them. Not really all that different to humans.

We might be the butt of overseas jokes about being a country infested by spiders, snakes and crocs, but you don’t really have too much to do with many violent animals in populated areas.

Rates of injury to magpies are very small. Tigers roam parts of the Asian wilderness. And in some parts of the United States and in Canada, gigantic moose and bears pose a real threat to human life. 

I still reckon I’d rather have a moose as a pet, though.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: HOW TO PLACATE A MAGPIE:

1. Stop when you can tell a magpie is agitated.
2. Feed it a bit of mince.
3. Back away from their territory.
4. Rinse and repeat to make new avian friend.

Most commented

55 comments

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    • Geronimo says:

      06:09am | 25/08/12

      Live in a bush setting, feathered birds abundant including four Maggies perched on the front verandah to remind me of their 4pm feed every day…Neither this scribe nor any of the local kids to my knowledge, have ever been dive bombed by your Black-n-White Avengers.

    • acotrel says:

      06:22am | 25/08/12

      Things could be worse - imagine if cassowaries could fly like magpies.

    • Little Joe says:

      07:15am | 25/08/12

      Thanx for my morning laugh!!!

    • Coxy says:

      06:41am | 25/08/12

      5. Shoot them.

      I know a bloke who does it, he hasn’t got a lot of tolerance.

    • Little Joe says:

      07:18am | 25/08/12

      Agree ..... they send a lot of children to hospital every year and I know one cyclist who died who was attached and swerved into traffic.

    • Jay2 says:

      09:12am | 25/08/12

      The majority of Magpies usually become aggressive because some people antagonise them, either deliberately or innocently.

      I’ve seen people throw things at them; stalk them; chase them, hurl objects at nesting sites, ‘stare them down’...the list goes on.

      Growing up in the bush it was interesting the horseback riders were never bothered but kids on bikes were, enough said. I’ll give a nod of admiration for any creature that is physically and mentally the underdog having the temerity to actually stand up to a human being.

      Great Coxy, so they could have fledglings in the nest which are going to starve to death without parents, shooting is them is illegal anyway.

    • Anne71 says:

      09:37am | 25/08/12

      Ah, yes - “Shoot them.”

      The redneck’s solution to every problem.

    • Gregg says:

      03:25pm | 25/08/12

      @LJ
      ” I know one cyclist who died who was attached and swerved into traffic. “
      Little cyclist was it or big magpie or was something else swerving with the cyclist attached?

      I know, I know, I’m mean and full of black humour.

    • marley says:

      07:15pm | 25/08/12

      @LittleJoe - I’ve been thinking about the point that Australia is the most urbanised population in the world.  I think that, if you can’t get along with the local wildlife, and adapt to their existence, then urbanisation has gone a step too far. 

      Magpies are aggressive when breeding and when protecting their nests.  Aren’t we all?  There are measures you can take to protect yourself and your kids without having to slaughter the birds.  That people would prefer to shoot birds rather than figure out how to co-exist with them strikes me as a very sad example of the disconnect that a lot of urban Australians have with the world around them.

    • Little Joe says:

      10:55pm | 25/08/12

      @ Marley

      Urbanisation has gone too far???

      I have kookaburras laughing in my trees, finches flying round the branches, possums fighting in my backyard, and the other day I had seven ducks swimming around my pool. I also have a brother who still sports a 10cm scar on the back of his head ..... his offence ..... he walked across a park when he was eight years old.

      He could have easily been blinded just like the boy in one of the listed stories.

      If it was a dog that attacked my brother, then it would have been put down.

    • marley says:

      03:04pm | 26/08/12

      @LittleJoe - and I’ve got a scar from falling out of a tree when I was 7.  It doesn’t make me want to chop down every tree in sight;  it just makes me want to be more careful when climbing them (not that I do a whole lot of that these days). 

      My point is that we co-exist with a lot of creatures, of which magpies are by no means the worst (think sharks and salties, for example).  We need to learn to manage that co-existence, rather than exterminate the magpies. 

      This provides some interesting tips (I especially like the one about eyes in the back of the head - and what kid wouldn’t want to wear an ice-cream bucket on his head?)

      http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Safe-from-Swooping-Australian-Magpies

    • chuzoo says:

      07:01am | 25/08/12

      This article is right on the money with regards to the magpies!!  In our street there are 3or4 homes where we feed our maggies, I have even had these beautiful wild birds sit on my hand/head while singing their lovely song. 
      Enter the neighbours!  3 lots of ‘neighbours (2 live either side of us) don’t like the maggies and have been very aggressive towards both ourselves and people opposite and other feeders. Demanding us to stop feeding/encouraging the birds, even calling the people opposite “rental scum”(Probably applies to us as well),spying on them constantly, placing intimidating objects looking over our fences and so on.
      The reasons given are that 1)they poo on the washing(I usually have a dozen birds sitting on my line while I hang out clothes and I have never had poo on my clothes).2) they poo on my neighbour’s fence (takes 1 minute to hose) 3) they are messing the street,4) they are viscious(see above comment).
      I have been living in this street for 13 years, feeding birds when they come to sit in my trees and forage in my garden. These ratbag neighbours have only bought here in the last 5-6 years, both lots have fully concreted/tiled their entire properties, no gardens at all except for a couple of potted things.
      There is no law against feeding birds in your own yard, so where do these idiots get off.  Last year while we were on holiday, they came into our yard and cut down our trees, killing 2 25 ft high ones, they were not on the fence line, but he thought that he may get a better view without trees (which the parrots loved to visit every year).
      And people wonder why local goldcoasters say"Go back to where you came from!!

    • TracyH says:

      07:58am | 25/08/12

      That’s awful!!! I really feel for you, having mongrel neighbours spoiling your lovely relationship with the birds :(. People suck. I hope you can take solace from the fact they are clearly unhappy people who have no ability to enjoy the simple, beautiful things in life.

    • thatmosis says:

      07:59am | 25/08/12

      We have a family of Magpies that have been here ever since we moved in about 12 years ago and they never attack us but bring their young down for us to see each and every year. Even the dogs accept them although they chase every other bird out of the territory especially the Kookas.
        People have problems with these birds mainly because some clown has given them a hard time and they regard every human as a danger.

    • T says:

      01:02pm | 25/08/12

      Our pies at my Mums place take there young down while she is hanging out the clothes and duck off to get more food. My Mum loves baby sitting them, she feeds the young ones ham too while Mum and Dad are out. They are so cute.

    • marley says:

      08:19am | 25/08/12

      Our house backs onto bush.  We have magpies who more or less reside in our yard, and plenty more who live along the street.  We don’t feed any of them, but we’ve never been attacked by any of them either.  Live and let live.

    • Babylon says:

      04:30pm | 25/08/12

      G’day Marley

      Please cast your mind back to our discussions on Off shore processing where I maintained Malaysia would be Malaysian run?

      “But the UNHCR’s regional representative Rick Towle today said the organisation would play an arms-length monitoring role in relation to the facilities under the refugee convention, but would not play any part in their management.” (The Australian 24 Aug 2012)

      Told you   :-D

    • marley says:

      07:20pm | 25/08/12

      @Babylon - sorry, don’t remember that particular discussion. 

      However, here’s the deal.  In non-signatory countries, the UNHCR takes responsibility for refugee determination and for managing the camps (though it often contracts out the latter to IOM).  Malaysia is a non-signatory.

      In signatory countries, the UNHCR has no role in refugee determination or, normally, in operating camps.  That’s because signatory countries are supposed to take that responsibility on under the Convention.  Australia, Nauru and PNG are signatories.  The UNHCR is simply saying, the ball is in our court.  I agree.

    • marley says:

      07:26pm | 25/08/12

      @Babylon - oh, on second thought, are you the one who argued that Malaysia would decide who got to come to Australia?  Nope.  That was never in play. 

      The UNHCR might make eligibility assessments in non-signatory countries but the final decision is always up to DIAC.  In signatory countries, DIAC makes the decisions, with or without input from the UNHCR.  But Malaysia was never going to have a role in deciding who got to come, and neither will Nauru.

    • NESLIHAN KUROSAWA says:

      08:33am | 25/08/12

      Hi Daniel,

      So much information about magpies in so little time!  Personally, I don’t feel connected to magpies because they aren’t your ordinary and everyday birds.  They seem to be on a violent and aggressive side slightly!  I have never had any idea that such creatures existed in Sydney, Australia until I became a parent and started exchanging information with other parents.  Who actually did enlighten me on the fact that magpies are common visitors at your local parks all around Sydney, and to my amazement I had realized that I did not spend much time going to local parks!  Which was no excuse but I do prefer the beaches in Sydney.

      I am not really certain about forming long lasting and affectionate relationships with these lovely creatures. However I must say that you are straight to the point when you mention the fact that most people will ask questions about those vicious and dangerous animals living in Australia. And when I say that I have not encountered any of those much talked about spiders, crocodiles, snakes and sharks which made Australia famous around the world,  they just seem a bit surprised and disappointed.

      And finally in closing, Australia happens to be a very special and unique place for all those weird and wonderful creatures.  It is like having your own personal zoo at your foot step.  In defence of all these creatures I simply have to say that Australia is their country of origin and their natural habitat.  How about showing a bit more understanding towards these creatures, who have been calling Australia home for just slightly longer than most of us?  Kind regards to your editors.

    • TimB says:

      08:51am | 25/08/12

      Yup we had a mess of magpies that lived around our place. Used to feed them all the time, never got swooped on.

      One year the nest was in the gum tree in our backyard…which made for an interesting time when the babies fell from the nest and were being stalked by our cat. We managed to rescue them in time and kept them in a big bird cage out on our back balcony so their parents could still see them.

      A couple of times a day over the next week we’d shut the cat out and take the birds out to flap around the backyard until they’d built up their wings enough to fly back up to their tree.

    • TChong says:

      08:52am | 25/08/12

      Of course the Magpie is the symbol of all things, noble, true blue, fair dinks ,
      and good about   OZ.
      Only a tree hugging, terrist pal , commie would disagree.
      Now, everyone join in…...,
      “Dear old Collingwood , forever….,
      we know how to play the game .....,”

    • Who let the cats out!? says:

      10:31am | 25/08/12

      All those bird teams leading the Afl is a worry. Time to set the cats among them!

    • pa_kelvin says:

      11:49am | 25/08/12

      Magpies are OK, but Tigers are better. smile

    • Dan says:

      08:53am | 25/08/12

      Despite all the drawbacks, if the Buddhists are right, I want to come back as a magpie.

    • Sidney Mincing says:

      11:43am | 25/08/12

      ....or a lady’s bicycle saddle.

    • sunny says:

      01:39pm | 26/08/12

      Sidney - you’d better first check that Dame Edna Everage doesn’t ride a bicycle before ticking that option on your reincarnation form.

    • Boogoose says:

      09:04am | 25/08/12

      I use to have no problem with magpies. Then one year I got one that went absolutely nuts on my head. I had to go to hospital and get a few stitches. Ive been nervous of them from them on.  There is no reason to hurt them, I just remember to bring an umbrella or something to give me a bit of cover, failing that I try and think like a cow, a nice safe no threatening cow.

      When I lived near some pies 10years ago I was cool with them. I use to feed them a few scraps and they use to bring me the odd worm when I was reading outside.

    • Fred Bloggs says:

      09:57am | 25/08/12

      The most magical sound is a maggie warbling away, especially on our back verandah where four or five gather every morning around nine o[clock for their breakfast - two crumbled up pieces of grainy bread. If I’m a bit slow, they bash on the kitchen window. Wonderful birds.

    • Al B says:

      10:20am | 25/08/12

      Have some out the front who are fine, even with people walking past with dogs ...have never swooped me. Cycling wise i have one or two spots i either avoid or just go through slow looking around a lot, or fast when possible ...
      I wouldnt mind coming back as one of those either! Though i might only last one go, they seem too ultra-competitive for me.

    • Louie the Fly says:

      10:28am | 25/08/12

      Magpies, unfortunately we don’t have any chez Louie, we do however, have a psycho galah.  Admittedly a pet, but gosh, I’m thinking he may be a reincarnated Magpie. Very similar behaviors, affctionate then aggressive, very territorial, flies round the neighborhood like a lunatic - but demands his nest (bedtime cage) be prepared perfectly and promptly at 6pm.
      Luckily no Grey and Pink winged warrior could ever barrack or Collinwood though.

    • Porter says:

      10:31am | 25/08/12

      Hey! I would appreciated it if you kept a civil tongue of our state emblem/bird.

    • sunny says:

      11:02am | 25/08/12

      Bad time of year for maggies right now, the strong westerlies (east coast) give their trees / nests a good rattle. I’m surprised they don’t migrate to escape the winds this time of year.

      “I still reckon I’d rather have a moose as a pet, though.”

      the moose flap in the door would have to be wider than the door itself!

    • Mouse says:

      01:52pm | 25/08/12

      LOL! I was going to have a go at you for inferring I was big! Then I re-read that you said “moose”.............so sunny, all is forgiven! lol :o)

    • sunny says:

      09:48am | 26/08/12

      Nah, I said moose Mouse smile How brilliant would it be though having a pet moose - after dinner everyone crowds into the lounge room to watch their favourite show, but the family moose is asleep in his basket in front of the TV. The father is about to yell ‘Oi down in front’ but the mother says ‘no don’t wake Bruce he’s had a hard day grazing out on the front lawn’ smile

    • Mouse says:

      12:03pm | 26/08/12

      LOL!  At my house, poor Bruce would be covered in cats as well though! 

      I would love it too. Just think, we could hook Bruce up to the cart and go shopping, we’d save heaps on petrol, good for the environment and all that.  Oh, the mind boggles!  LMAO :o)

    • sunny says:

      01:35pm | 26/08/12

      I like that idea, put the moose to work. How about hanging a load of shirts socks and undies on his antlers then take him out for a walk while they dry ..but if he gets into a fight with another moose or starts rolling around in the gardens, there goes the clean clothes!

    • Mouse says:

      03:53pm | 26/08/12

      Damn, nearly spilt my coffee on that thought!  *choke, choke*  :o~
      My dog loves scratching her back by rolling on the pavers and the thought of Bruce doing it is hysterical! hahahaha
      The clothes line did cross my mind, but, like you, I can see too many probs with that.  He would be good for kite flying, perfectly grounded. Sing to him. get him into the groove, and just sit back and watch the acrobatics.. (of the kite)  :o)

    • Sickemrex says:

      11:32am | 25/08/12

      I like them, they have personality and their song is lovely.  We have heaps in our street and they relentlessly swoop kids on bikes and leave walkers and runners alone.  I realised last year why they are so hard on the bikes having watched a bunch of turds on bikes throwing sticks and balls at a nest.

      They don’t swoop at all if you carry a stick and hold it above your head as you go past a swooping area.  Sure, you look like a bit of a freak but it saves on stitches.

    • maggie says:

      12:11pm | 25/08/12

      Love em!  Never been attacked, and I cycled and ran in bush a lot.  Made friends with only one on a railway commute who used to join me on the platform sometimes if I whistled correctly…

    • vox says:

      04:08pm | 25/08/12

      I know. I married one

    • nihonin says:

      12:05pm | 26/08/12

      Commiserations vox, so did I, but luckily she thought she’d found something better and left.

    • stephen says:

      03:51pm | 25/08/12

      Pull off their wings, throw’em into a hot bath and see if they can swim.
      I ride bicycles everywhere and they’re a bloody nuisance.

    • mear says:

      04:54pm | 25/08/12

      Funny how little attention seems to be paid to the beauty of magpie song. I hate the bastards when they swoop, though.

    • Hugo says:

      04:57pm | 25/08/12

      At least they’re not Plovers. God I hate Plovers.

    • vox says:

      05:06pm | 25/08/12

      Porter, do you live in South Aust? If so it’s a piping shrike.

    • JJ says:

      03:35pm | 26/08/12

      Hey Vox a plover is not a piping shrike.Plovers are serial pests that nest on the ground and will seriously have a crack at you if you get within cooee of their young.These dive bombers make maggies look tame.

    • Inky says:

      09:56am | 26/08/12

      “I still reckon I’d rather have a moose as a pet, though.”

      Mind you, moose bites can be pretty nasty.

    • Mouse says:

      12:08pm | 26/08/12

      Oh Inky, the pet moose would only give gentle nibbles, if he ever wants to get fed again that is! hehehe
      Just imagine training him as a guard moose, imagine the look on any burglar’s face when they broke in. Priceless!!  lol   :o)

    • Inky says:

      01:30pm | 26/08/12

      Haha, that is an amusing image.

      But my original post there was a Monty Python quote wink

      Still, a nibbly mouse.. er, moose, does sound like fun :3

    • marley says:

      04:43pm | 26/08/12

      Charming as the idea of a pet moose is, the thought of finding a big enough litter box is a bit of a dampener.

    • Mouse says:

      04:00pm | 26/08/12

      Sorry Inky, but I’m a bit slow sometimes! Well, it is Sunday after all….  ;o)

    • Take no guff says:

      07:42pm | 27/08/12

      I’ve shot more magpies than most of you have had hot dinners.

      I have a one swoop policy.

 

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