Australia hosts some of the worlds most deadly snakes and spiders, as well the most dangerous bird, the Southern Cassowary, which has also caused death and injury. However, in Spring each year one’s friendly neighborhood Australian Magpie joins the list during nesting season. What is normally a very friendly bird allowing close contact becomes an aggressive vicious villain to avoid coming anywhere close to its territory around the nest which male relatives closely guard(around 100m diam area). It is interesting that these clever birds see humans as such a threat considering their nest is high in a eucalypt tree away from our interest. Unlike the Masked Lapwing which is notorious for attacking humans and animals that pass over its open nesting field, there appears no logic to the Magpies concern, and the extent of its aggression.
Those who have purchased my book ‘What Birds Teach Us’ will know that Magpies are very intelligent, in fact, one of the most intelligent of birds. They have a very well organised social and family structure, and are very aware and capable survivors. Presently groups are gathering as the alpha male is established who will win the right to mate with present females, though for some the nesting process has already begun due to our early Spring. In Sydney we have the North Eastern Black-backed subspecies, whereas the states in the far south mainland have the southern and south western white-backed subspecies. The Magpie has some of the most successful survival techniques, similar to the Australian Raven.
The alpha male when established will mate with the females in the group and after the nest is built will spend much of its time feeding the female(s) who will remain on the nest till nestlings appear, after which the responsibility to feed and train the babies will be the male and his male relatives, while the female has a break. The logic is that the clever Magpie is aware of the Cuckoos always trying to invade their nest to plant surrogate eggs, so to prevent this the female stays on the nest most of the time.
The courting procedure is played out in full view of the group, as intimate foreplay. The female surrenders to the male making herself very vulnerable and he shows affection, just like we do. I featured the Little Corella here some months ago doing a similar thing in the flock. It is interesting that the water meter became the centre point of their love making.
It is after all this that the trouble starts for all who pass their way. A ruthless guard is placed over the surrounding area to all birds, animals and humans. Their aggression is mainly toward those running or riding bikes as their speed suggests a threat, though as you shall see from my photos below just walking slowly is also deemed a threat by the more aggressive Magpies. This swooping and continuous attacking will occur while one is their guarded zone, and fast exit is wise. A week ago a man was riding his bicycle in a town south of Sydney when he was suddenly attacked by a Magpie, his bicycle hit a post, causing him to fall, his injuries were so bad that he died. Local councils are urged to erect signs in danger areas. The problem is, if you are not already aware of a danger zone, you sometimes do not know you are being attacked until you feel it bite your ear or cut your face, as they swoop so suddenly and accurately.
As part of my research I placed myself in the danger zone of one particularly dangerous Magpie, which I witnessed injuring at least two people and scaring others. I personally allowed myself to be deliberately attacked on several occasions but did not get injured due to my quick action and awareness. The man below was walking through the attack zone and received a bleeding bitten ear lobe from an sudden swoop. In some council areas these birds have had to be taken out or destroyed as too many people are injured or emotionally damaged, especially if it occurs along a frequented footpath.
To get some idea of how focused and obsessed the attacking Magpie is with performing the task, take a look at these pics. Click on them to enlarge, though they are taken from a distance.
Consider this video I took, being the only successfully filmed movie attack caught . At first in normal speed followed by slow motion. It is filmed all the way from the Magpies tree to me.
This poor man was a victim in an open field with nothing to protect himself with. In the end, the only way he could stop the constant attack was to sit down on the grass, where he did not pose a threat, but the determined Magpie sat watching him from a few feet away, determined to take his commission to guard duty most seriously.
The Australian Magpie should probably have been named the Pied Magpie, as when compared to the European variety it lacks colour and is only black and white, but since it is named the Australian Magpie it may not be necessary. Compare these…
Imagine having this face looking at you from close range within a danger zone…
Interesting enough this was one place where another aggressive bird, hated for its aggression, the Noisy Honeyeater, actually came to my assistance and chased the naughty Magpie, taking its attention off me. Even the Noisy Miner were not going to let the Magpie be the meanest, as they hold that reputation all year round.
My wisdom thought for this occasion was the picture below. The rogue Magpie sitting on watch above a road sign telling people that a refuge island is located in the middle of the busy road, right in view of the Magpie’s gaze. This would be the very least place to take refuge, exposed and very visible. Normally this would be a safe place to stand when crossing the road, but something has changed, and for several weeks it may actually be a danger zone for the unsuspecting, regardless what the sign says. How important it is for us to be aware of and wise to present danger. Many people young and old are walking around with their head bowed over an electronic communication device, unaware of present danger. Many more are causing serious accidents themselves, walking onto busy roads without stopping to look, being lost in an artificial world where many seek encouragement and validation to medicate what may be low self confidence. This addiction has made necessary new challenges and therapies in counseling. Many have died on our state roads due to people texting while driving. A call to be vigilant and present in the now. Mindful of what is occurring around oneself. I often have people near where I live, walking into me on the wrong side of the footpath, or just about to because they are lost in space, cyber space. Distractions like these can be deadly so the call is to Be Alert ! and present in the now, and avoid anything that distracts you from the true purpose and activities of life.
“Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8
Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that no one misleads you.” – Mark 13:5
Have a wonderful week! Enjoy each precious moment and give thanks for it and for the gift of life itself.
‘What Birds Teach Us’ is available on my BirdBook page.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.