Australia is being plagued by vicious and vindictive swooping magpies, and people say they are terrified

  • It's nesting season in Australia and people are on high alert for vicious swooping Australian magpies.

  • The much-loved songbird is loathed for its tendancy to divebomb cyclists, pedestrians, and children.

  • The clever birds are also vindictive and will target anyone they feel slighted by, even years later.

It's springtime in Australia, which means the return of vicious swooping attacks from the Australian magpie.

The melodious songbirds, which are much-loved the rest of the year, are loathed around nesting season, when they go on the offense, divebombing anyone they feel poses a threat to their young.

Australians have had to come up with all sorts of creative ways to protect themselves — from wearing buckets as hat, to sticking eyes on the back of their heads, to tying party horns to their bike helmets.

But the birds are clever, and not easily fooled. They are also vindictive, and will remember those they feel slighted by for years.

"I am genuinely terrified," Tione Zylstra, a 21-year-old who was repeatedly targeted by a bird, told the BBC.

"I don't know why it hated me, but it did… I never did anything wrong, I swear!" she said.

Divebombing magpies are no strangers to revenge

The irritable magpies are well-known pests, whooshing and screeching within inches of the heads of anyone they find suspicious passing within 400 feet of their nests.

Their attacks are mostly harmless — leaving only a cut or a scratch, per the BBC.

Still, on occasion, these birds can use their sharp beaks and claws to cause serious injury, and there have even been a few accidental deaths linked to their attacks, per the BBC.

An Australian magpie is seen staring at the camera
An Australian magpie is shown here.iStock / Getty Images Plus

In 2021, a baby named Mia died after her mother tripped and fell dodging a magpie, per CNN.

A cyclist also made the news this month after he almost lost vision in one eye after an attack.

"This bird turned around and went straight for the eye, did a backflip and hit me right in the eye again," Christiaan Nyssen said in a statement, per the Canberra Times.

"A neighbour said I was the fifth person to be attacked," he added.

While Australian magpies aren't closely related to their European counterpart, they are also known to be extremely clever.

And that's what makes them so vindictive.

The birds can remember faces so they will be able to recognize those they have been scared by in the past — which can include people who simply swatted or yelled at them — for up to five years.

They also have a particular hatred for cyclists and children.

That's likely because they distrust anyone that covers part of their face – like cyclists with their sunglasses and hats – and those they consider more unpredictable, like children, Gisela Kaplan, an animal behaviorist and emeritus professor, told the BBC.

Australians have come up with creative ways to ward off the birds

Per the BBC, Australians have traditionally used upturned plastic ice cream containers as protective hats. Cyclists have also taken to social media to share creative ideas to make their helmets unattractive to the birds.

One filmed himself cycling around with a fake magpie pinned to his head, while others used zipties sticking outwards as bird deterrents.

Australian broadcaster SBS News suggested wearing sunglasses on the back of your head.

But official sources have some more sensible advice. They mostly recommend avoiding areas where the bird nests, wearing broad-rimmed hats, dismounting from a bike during a swooping attack, and being mindful of signs warning there is a nesting magpie nearby.

Walkers can also try sticking large eyes to the back of their hats, but that won't work for cyclists, per the Queensland government website.

Those living near the birds can also try to befriend the animals.

Over 80% of nesting magpies live near humans, which means swooping magpies are much rarer than they could be, Kaplan said in a post in The Conversation in 2017. That means building trust with the birds is paramount — and can lead to unusual friendships.

Kaplan recalled, in the 2017 post, a time when a magpie gingerly entered her home, and sat near her computer watching her type away. "She also wanted to play with me and found my shoelaces particularly attractive, pulling them and then running away a little only to return for another go," she said.

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