IT’S magpie swooping season — the time of year when you need eyes in the back of your head while out walking, riding or playing in parks.
As the final chills of winter begin to lift around Australia, so, too, do baby magpie heads over the sides of their nests.
Magpie breeding season starts in July and by the end of August lots of cute baby birds are tucked in their nests unable to fly, so their mums work to keep them warm and fed, while their dads swoop on unsuspecting* passers-by they think could be threats.
Magpie young spend around four weeks in the nest before they fledge* and over this period the parents are most aggressive.
It is why you can often see people wearing crazy contraptions on their heads from August to November to avoid the protective birds.
Sydney’s Randwick Council rangers have erected signs warning residents that magpie swooping season has begun, after an “aggressive” bird repeatedly swooped a taekwondo instructor in Sydney’s east.
Self defence teacher Emily Boulton Smith was swooped three times and pecked twice by a nesting magpie on August 12.
She did not see or hear it, but felt a “smack in the head”.
“That was the first thing I knew about it,” she said. “It came back for me two more times.”
Randwick mayor Noel D’Souza said the best thing residents could do was to avoid nesting areas.
“Definitely don’t throw sticks or rocks at the bird or nest and try to refrain* from waving your arms about as this may increase aggressive behaviours and prompt more swooping,” Cr D’Souza said.
People have come up with all sorts of ways to avoid the flying magpie wrath*, including offering the birds snacks, wearing helmets with plastic eyes stuck to the back and wearing an upside down ice cream container as protection.
But Birds SA vice president John Hatch said sometimes the simplest approach was the best.
“I think the easy thing to do is keep your eyes open but keep them down and put your hand over your head,” he said.
“You could deviate in the same way you would to a fierce dog … people have done all sorts of odd things in the past, they’ve worn buckets on their heads but that’s a bit overkill really, it’s not a serious issue.”
Free national website MagpieAlert.com allows users to record and track magpie attacks across the season.
Concerned residents can look up their area and find out where to avoid.
According to the website, one Melbourne woman reported she thought “someone had punched me” when she was hit by a bird in South Yarra this month.
“Something literally hit my eye and the side of my face, it felt like a sandbag it was so hard,” she wrote.
Magpie Alert users have recorded more than 150 magpie attacks in Queensland this year, more than 100 in New South Wales and around 80 for Victoria.
Magpies are found in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, coastal ranges of Queensland and in south east Western Australia.
unsuspecting: someone not aware that they could be targeted
fledge: grow feathers to fly with
refrai n : stop
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Activity 1. Swooping season
Write a summary of this article in your own words.
How can we avoid being swooped by magpies?
Create a fact sheet of tips for people to help them avoid being swooped by nesting magpies. There are some ideas in the article to get you started and you may be able to find out some more ideas through further research.
Remember that Magpies, like all native birds are a protected species so harming or moving them is not an option.
Extension: The magpie warbler
This article is written from a human perspective.
Imagine you are writing an article for the Magpie Warbler, a fictitious newspaper for magpies. What would be included in this article?
It could possibly suggest ways to keep humans from attacking their babies and give warnings on various human tricks to avoid being attacked by them, or would it inform the magpies that humans are not likely to attack their babies so they don’t need to swoop?
Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking
Activity 2. Magpies
The magpie is a striking bird with a delightful warble.
There are a number of different species around the world.
Find out some more information about the magpie and write an information report about the species.
You could write your report specifically about the Australian magpie or about magpies in general.
Make sure your report includes an introduction and two or three paragraphs about their physical features, noises they make, diet and how they gather food, natural habitat, breeding behaviour and why they swoop.
Extension: Magpie attack!
Imagine you have to pass a magpie nest with swooping magpies on the way to and from school.
Write a short narrative that describes your experiences as you walk to school.
Include your feelings as you approach the magpie zone, details of what happens as the birds swoop you and how you try to avoid being swooped.
You can make your story as comical or as serious as you like.
Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Science
(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)
Magpies are already swooping near some schools. It turns out they’ve been flapping so powerfully that they’ve mixed up some sentences from the article.
They identified a compound sentence (two clauses joined together with a connective).
Then, they flapped so hard that it was broken and shuffled around.
Can you save the sentence?
Can you grab the connective and second clause and move it to the beginning?
Does it still make sense?
The magpies have already been swooping near some schools.
Near some schools, the magpies have already been swooping.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP
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