Swooping Magpies: How Stupid Are They?

Do humans look like they can fly? Do people on bikes look as though they are just about to turn a vertical, and cycle up the side of the tree? Do kids walking home from school, satchels over their backs, look as though they are about to climb trees for fun?

No!

So what’s with all the swooping, magpies?

australian-magpieThe problem with magpies I think is that they think that we think like they think and we don’t think like that at all. Whilst magpies think nothing of raiding other birds nests and often stealing their eggs, it’s not the sort of thing us humans tend to do.

We usually get our eggs at the supermarket.

So come on magpies, calm down will you? Yes it’s…

Magpie swooping season

Magpie attacks are a serious problem and I’ve written about it before. Two years ago I wrote a post called Swooping Magpies: A Nasty Australian Bad Thing following the tragic death of a 12-year-old boy not far from where I live. He had run into the road trying to escape an attacking magpie.

That’s how serious a problem this can be.

Death following a magpie attack is extremely rare, although I’ve heard of four in Australia alone. I’ve already mentioned one, here’s the other three. Apparently, in 1946, a 13-year-old boy died from tetanus after being attacked by a magpie. In 1954, a three-year-old boy choked on food he was eating when he was attacked by a magpie. And in 2003, a 74-year-old man sustained serious eye injuries after a magpie attack and later died in hospital.

There are almost certainly many more magpie related deaths, if not in Australia, then surely from elsewhere around the world. Magpie attacks that result in blindness or serious injury from those falling from their bikes are much more common. Children are especially vulnerable.

Magpie attacks do happen with great regularity. Apparently, between 800 and 1200 attacks are reported each year in Brisbane alone.

Forewarned is forearmed, so they say, and the magpie attacks map is certainly helpful in that regard. I checked the map last week…

Magpie Map… and discovered there was a swooping magpie not far from where I live. Look, I’ve even pointed an arrow to it on the above map.

The live interactive map is no longer available.

So, that got me wondering. Were these maps accurate? And what’s it like to be swooped on by magpie? Up until the making of the following video, I had never been swooped on by magpie either here in Australia or back in the UK.

Is that about to change? Take a look for yourselves, but more importantly for those of you with young children, find out what I think you should be telling them. If you don’t have kids though and just want to see the swooping, forward the video to around 2 minutes and 40 seconds in…

As much as I love nature and Australian wildlife, the magpie, for me, remains an Australian bad thing. And it may only be in Australia where the magpie actually swoops. I’m no ornithologist, but I do know we certainly had magpies in the UK, I don’t ever remember seeing a swooping map or hearing of any swooping magpies there.

There are quite a few different types of magpie, apparently, ours are called the Australian magpie and in the UK they have the European magpie. Every swooping magpie story I’ve heard is Australian.

So, that got me wondering again. Do magpies swoop where you live? Let us know in the comments below…

Update September 2016

As soon as I saw the headline in my local paper, I knew it was him. Our local swooping magpie is no more.

Here’s how John Cleese would have put it:

This magpie is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late magpie. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It’s rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-magpie.”

dead-magpieCourtesy of questnews.com.au

The theory seems to be that a local resident finally had enough of this swooping magpie and took matters into his (or her) own hands.

Is it the same magpie that swooped on me though?

Well, apparently magpies live for around 20 to 25 years, so there is every chance this is, or rather was, the same magpie that attacked me four years ago.

I’m not sure too many people would lose much sleep over this. Even the young girl who received a nasty head wound from this magpie recently was a little indifferent. She said “I was sad that it’s died, but kind of relieved at the same time that no one else would get hurt.

No, they won’t, not by this magpie.

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{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Nurrungar July 26, 2016, 4:58 pm | Link

    Ah now magpies, as well as our possums we have a lot of magpies and currawongs. I came up to Canberra 33yrs ago and have never been swooped. We put this down to there always some cat biscuits outside in thanks for the beautiful singing. I should point out that these biscuits do not contain any actual portion of cat but magpies, currawongs and possums seem to find them delicious and the cats prefer to take their biscuits from an inside dish. Like the possums, “befriend your local magpie tribe” and you shall be rewarded not swooped. The local cyclists have adopted the trick of threading a number of cable ties into their cycle helmets and leaving the ends sticking up echidna like and this seems to work. Makes interesting headgear for “show and tell” as well.

    • BobinOz July 27, 2016, 3:05 pm | Link

      I tried to make friends, danged magpie swooped down on me and tried to peck my head! 🙂

  • Fred Quirk August 31, 2014, 9:01 pm | Link

    Thanks Bob, our children are the most precious things in the world! I am fiercely protective of my children. Just as the magpies are of theirs – you’d think it’d be innate.
    Welcome to Oz Bob, we’re basically a good mob 😀

    • BobinOz September 1, 2014, 7:13 pm | Link

      Thanks Fred and yes you are good mob, I’m having a great time here 🙂

  • Fred Quirk August 30, 2014, 8:02 pm | Link

    Wangarattan magpies won’t have a hard job when no-one is protecting the children 🙁

    • Fred Quirk August 30, 2014, 8:03 pm | Link

      Could I please have a nicer pic please?

      • BobinOz August 30, 2014, 8:59 pm | Link

        I think your picture looks quite cool Fred. Hopefully somebody IS protecting your kids from the magpies in Wangaratta, our are children are too precious.

  • John V. June 3, 2014, 4:38 pm | Link

    Don’t be concerned. Those sneaky attackers are males, and unless they practise polygamy, only one will attack you at a time. Unless they are of the football type, where two or more parties will attack. Those ones however cannot afford to fly out of Victoria I have been told due to flight plans not being approved in most cases by parole officers. What these species look like: scary > http://s921.photobucket.com/user/Apresski/media/images-3.jpg.html A mix between sabretooth and no tooth tigers.

    • BobinOz June 4, 2014, 7:30 pm | Link

      Where did you get that picture of my brother?

      • John V. June 4, 2014, 7:39 pm | Link

        Crikey your milkman must have had a big run….and / or traveled a bit….

  • Dolly June 2, 2014, 2:41 pm | Link

    they wont swoop if your looking at them, which sucks if theres 2 of them, while your having a stare off with 1 the other comes from behind, where I live in Grafton Nsw this has to be the worst place for maggies, if its not magpies its bloody pluvvers. even worse when your getting attacked by both at the same time lol

    • BobinOz June 3, 2014, 4:03 pm | Link

      Dang! I didn’t think of that, not many people can stare two magpies in the eye at the same time. I’ll have to think of another plan.

      I’ll make a note to avoid Grafton during the magpie attacking season. Thanks Dolly!

      Bob

  • marie August 14, 2013, 2:35 pm | Link

    Magpies must love me! Never been attacked but I remember when I was a kid my brother was always getting swooped by them, to this day I’m the only member of my family that has never been swooped.

    • BobinOz August 14, 2013, 8:27 pm | Link

      Just a longshot Marie, but do you wear a hat at all? A spiky hat? Just asking 🙂

  • Dillon January 11, 2013, 9:53 am | Link

    hey i was listening very quietly and im hearing noise in the back ground when im reading its very faint

    • BobinOz January 12, 2013, 4:59 pm | Link

      If you walk towards it, does it get louder?

  • John Vance October 26, 2012, 8:46 am | Link

    Editorial pinched from Canberra. Well theyre into assett stripping. This one wont hurt a bit. No I wont tell you from whence this witty piece came from.
    Magpies!
    AAAAHHHH! ME WANT ATTACK HUMAN!!! Um, I mean tweet tweet warble.

    We don’t want your babies. I understand that you’re just trying to be a good parent, but seriously, you have to re-think this whole attack the humans thing because WE DON’T WANT YOUR BABIES.

    Have you ever been inside a supermarket? If ever you bother to check out Coles or Woolworths or Aldi, you’ll see row after row of food. Some of it’s fresh. Some of it’s pre-packaged and ready to heat and eat. None of it has feathers on it. This is where most of us humans secure our sustenance and we really don’t need to supplement it with your chicks.

    I understand that it’s the male magpies doing the attacking and that to some extent it’s about proving your worth to your mate, but guys, there has to be a less extreme way to do it. Rather than be the macho guy, may I suggest a romantic approach or even just taking the rubbish out or doing the dishes because this kamikaze stuff is going to catch up with you one day.

    As a regular cyclist, I seriously cannot comprehend the level of intensity in your regular attacks on me. I still don’t understand what makes you believe that I’m coming for your young when I’m zipping past ‘your tree’ at 40km/h. I don’t even look like slowing down, so why oh why must you try to impose yourself on me?

    If I was to stop the bike and start climbing the tree towards your nest, then I could fully understand you getting a little hot under the collar, but isn’t it clear that I don’t give a toss about your little ones?

    I’m the guy who feeds you mince meat and bacon from my back deck. I’m the guy who comes out to listen to your beautiful songs. Honestly, what makes you think that I want to destroy your family?

    You need to chill a bit. I think you’ll be a better father if you can just get a grip and relax. Go catch some worms or hassle the crows, but for God’s sake leave us humans alone.

    To the particularly crazy magpies including the demented bird just south of Murrumbateman on the Barton Highway and the noisy warrior who lives down by Isabella Pond, I do hope your beak was jarred by the hard exterior of my bike helmet. Were you trying to scare me, or was that a genuine attempt to kill me?

    And to the crazy bird on William Slim Drive at Giralang, yes you did draw blood. I hope you’re satisfied.

    Please, can we just get along?

    [Ed’s note: the places in this story are in Canberra, where magpies are particularly vicious, possibly because they watch too much Question Time]

    Comments on this piece close at the last plaintive warbling before sunset at 8pm AEST

  • John vance October 12, 2012, 1:39 am | Link

    Crap!
    May your chickens turn to emu’s and kick your dunny down!
    (old Wangarattan curse)
    At least Wangaratta got mentioned a few times.
    Here is my map of Wangaratta…http://tinyurl.com/wangar
    No free coffee for you!

  • John vance October 10, 2012, 6:21 pm | Link

    Er I got a video. With a strenge commintary. Dits ill ure gonna git.
    Wisnt gonna go back to git kilt.

    Swooping Magpies a Menace to Melbournians by NTDTV

    • BobinOz October 11, 2012, 10:17 pm | Link

      Not good enough I’m afraid, no map of Wangaratta for you!

  • John vance October 10, 2012, 10:24 am | Link

    I have to complain. Your map only mentions Queensland magpies, and yet this country town where I’m handing out my Council electoral leaflets has seen me attacked by a huge magpie with sharp teeth and claws. I live in Wangaratta Victoria and youre obviously only thinking of Queensland Magpies. Your ducks must also be very tame as I was also attacked by a duck. I told him to duck off, and he changed species and chickened out. *=D Never mind, Pommy Queenslanders are such strange people, going to Tassie to look at snow in winter when Stanley and the Gordon River cruise is much nicer in Spring…. Come on a bigger map, we hardly ever get a mention in Wangaratta. http://www.wangarattacity.com elections.

    • BobinOz October 10, 2012, 5:11 pm | Link

      Don’t underestimate our ducks, my wife and her friend were chased by one last year and her friend actually tore her dress in the panic to escape! She still hasn’t forgiven me for laughing when they told me about it.

      Anyway, if you send me a video of that magpie attacking you, I’ll put it on this website along with a map of Wangaratta. Can’t say fairer than that 🙂

  • James Young October 10, 2012, 9:35 am | Link

    Hi, I live in Busselton, WA in the fabulous Margaret River wine region. I cycle to work and have to pass one pair of nesting magpies every October / November. I have fitted long cable ties to my bike helmet which is a form of deterant and makes me feel better, but the magpies still swoop close. I originate from the UK and recall a time in Cornwall when my then 3 year old daughter had her ice cream snatched from her hand by a swooping seagull – very scary.

    • BobinOz October 10, 2012, 5:05 pm | Link

      Yes, swooping seagulls are a problem in the UK, that must’ve been a bit scary for your little girl.

      Magpies here seem to love people on bikes, don’t they?

  • Duchess September 13, 2012, 9:58 am | Link

    Thought I should drop by and let you know that the Australian Magpie isn’t even in the same family as the overseas ones.

    The only reason they’re called magpies is because they’re black and white. So the swooping is probably something to do with that. 😀

    • BobinOz September 13, 2012, 1:40 pm | Link

      Yes, it’s becoming clear that Australian magpies are very different from European magpies and even magpies in the states. We, apparently, are the only country that appears to have swooping magpies.

      Lucky country strikes again 🙂

  • Tine September 12, 2012, 9:37 am | Link

    The bird on your blogpost photo is not a Magpie but a Butcher bird by the way 😉

    • Tine September 12, 2012, 9:22 pm | Link

      I’m sorry, I’m wrong, it’s probably a European magpie, looks very much like an Australian butcher bird though

    • BobinOz September 13, 2012, 1:38 pm | Link

      Okay, I’ll change it.

  • Tine September 12, 2012, 9:33 am | Link

    Hi Bob,
    We live in Cleveland (Bayside Brisbane) and have a very vicious magpie living at the end of our street. He attacked my 4 year old son twice and really went for his face. The result were just some scratches on his cheek, but the pyschological impact is far worse. My son is really anxious now about birds in general. I’ve asked the local city council to have the bird relocated but they don’t want to do that. They advised me to contact the Department of Conservation, but they can’t help me either because the bird doesn’t live in a national park. They gave me the number of a licensed person that can relocate the bird, but that’s at own expense, a hefty 285$! If the bird lived on our property, I would think it’s reasonable to pay for it. But the bird lives next to a public park, at the entrance of a beautiful walk/cycleway, visited by lots of young kids! I know of one boy of my son’s Kindy who is attacked by the very same magpie! The only thing that the city council wants to consider is putting up a warning sign, yeah right, that’s not solving the problem is it? And no sight of a sign yet anyway.

    I would highly advise you to wear sunglasses if you come near a swooping magpie again! Only last year a 4 year old boy from Toowoomba lost his eyesight from a magpie attack!

    • BobinOz September 13, 2012, 1:37 pm | Link

      This is what really makes me angry. When these birds are very aggressive and repeatedly attacking children in a location where children are very entitled to be, like near schools or, as in this case, by a park entrance, and the council will not do anything about it?

      Surely our children are more important than that?

      These birds aren’t exactly rare or endangered, I don’t understand why they are not relocated from these areas. It seems clear that some magpies are more aggressive than others, so just move the very aggressive ones. Surely that makes sense?

      I’m sorry to hear about your boy, I hope the ordeal has not affected him too much.

  • RaoulDuke66 September 11, 2012, 12:26 am | Link

    There are no swooping magpies in the UK but there are certainly swooping seagulls – far worse. But what really worries me (or, more accurately, my wife) is the newspaper report warning Brisbane residents to beware of underweight bats looking for food. Not sure what that means exactly but it doesn’t sound good. And the bats here are BIG.

    • BobinOz September 11, 2012, 8:06 pm | Link

      Yes, I heard something about that, but so far I haven’t seen any hungry bats in my back yard. Well, not lately anyway, I did the other year and I put a post up called Strange Australian Back Garden Beastie Sounds Part 2, you can see a video of them ravaging my tree.

      As the magpies, I spoke to someone earlier and they told me American magpies don’t swoop either, maybe it is just out Aussie ones?

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