Magpies are often considered annoying and vicious due to their terrifying aerial assaults, which occur when some males protect their young during September and October. Despite this, magpies actually received the honour of being crowned Australia’s Bird of the Year according to the Guardians poll conducted in 2017.
Childhood memories of older Australians include being attacked on their walk to school. As most children today do not walk to school encounters generally occur in large parks, playing fields or gardens where widely spaced trees and plenty of grass provides their ideal habitat. They prefer to nest high in the outer branches of trees where they can survey their kingdom.
So, given the aggressive behaviour when males actively protect their young (only around 10% of males actually attack those they perceive as being a threat) what qualities made this one of the most popular birds in Australia?
- They have a beautiful song defined by many as fluting. Their morning call greets us every day and is their way of marking out their territory. They also have the ability to mimic the songs of other birds and even car alarms and dogs.
- They are beautiful to watch as they turn their heads to the side methodically locating grubs in the lawn. They are especially useful in reducing infestation of the dreaded African scarab beetle that feeds on the roots of grass in lawns and pastures along with many garden plants -both ornamental and edible.
- They are highly intelligent birds with the ability to recognise human faces. As magpies occupy the same territory for their entire life they can form very long relationships with people just like dogs if they take a liking to you. When these close bonds are formed they will even introduce their young to you. The best way to avoid being attacked by them is simply to befriend them. Their memories of people can last for over 20 years so once a considered a friend or a foe this memory will remain with them.
- They are a bird with attitude. Watching them feed or sing, one immediately recognises that these birds exert a sense of proud presence. They are generally very tame and will take handouts from humans. Once comfortable with human residents they will even enter homes to ask for food if you are a bit slow in providing a handout.
So, how can one reduce the risk of being attacked by the magnificent creatures when they are out to protect their young?
- They only swoop within 100 metres of their nest so get to know your neighbourhood birds and become their friends.
- Magpies can only recognise around 100 faces. Problems can be encountered in places like Sydney where there are too many faces. When this happens, magpies then tend to categorise people into being friends or foe. Hence some birds will be aggressive towards cyclists, dog walkers, young boys (many have a tendency to throw things at them) etc. depending upon their previous encounters with people. If you are in a park or a playing field and a magpie is aggressive towards you just relocate your presence away remembering that magpies only defend their young 100 metres from their nest.