Australia is home to plenty of dangerous animals, from sharks to spider, snakes, and, evidently, birds. For Australians, one of the more feared creatures that they have to contend with is the magpie—a black and white bird that is just over a foot in length, but is both aggressive and dangerous. Yet despite being responsible for some 3,000 swoopings in one season, which resulted in 400 injuries, the magpie is also highly regarded. In December 2017, the magpie was voted as the Guardian Australia’s Bird of the Year. It’s an interesting dichotomy, and one that has led to an interactive magpie alert map.
The map is “Australia’s social website to track aggressive swooping magpies.” Used by cyclists, walkers, runners, and regular pedestrians, the map warns people of aggressive magpies, reporting not only swoopings but also injuries. Gisela Kaplan, an emeritus professor at the University of New England in southeastern Australia, is a staunch defender of magpies, and explains that swooping is a common behavior among all birds. “The reason we normally don’t notice it is that most songbirds are so small that even if they swoop we don’t notice it,” she explains. Most swoopings are done by male birds who are protecting both their nests, but also their feeding grounds. While it may feel like an attack, swooping is actually a warning. “They may swoop several times to indicate to people ‘You are a bit too close to my nest site’ and if people don’t respond they may get closer to the head or even make contact,” explains Kaplan. She adds that the bird tries to avoid making contact so that it won’t injure itself. “It’s not in the interests of the magpie to make contact. It could break its neck.”
When it comes to avoiding magpie swoopings, your best bet is to make sure you’re avoiding their territories. Many people will try to ward off attacks by swinging sticks or other weapons, which to the bird appears to be aggressive, prompting it to retaliate. Instead, simply walk away from the area or avoid it altogether.