Swooping into spring

Natasha Boucher’s six-year-old son Arthur after his run-in with a magpie on Main Street in Romsey.

By Jackson Russell

Now the sun has started to come out swooping season has begun in earnest, with magpies spotted swooping pedestrians and cyclists across the region.

Native birds swoop humans, and often dogs, to defend their young for six to eight weeks from when they hatch until they leave the nest.

Known hotspots for swooping magpies include Gavan Street in Broadford, Boronia Avenue and Darraweit Road in Wallan, and Main Street in Romsey.

Romsey resident Natasha Boucher and her two sons had a run-in with an especially aggressive magpie while riding their bikes along Main Street.

Arthur, 6, fell off his bicycle after his cheek was cut, then Alfred, 4, had three holes pecked through his t-shirt.

Ms Boucher said many Romsey residents were aware of several families of magpies that lived along Main Street and were careful to avoid them at this time of year, but were still attacked from the other side of the road.

“We knew of the one across the street so we crossed on the other side trying to avoid it, not knowing that it would come over the bridge to the Indian restaurant,” she said.

“The boys rode their bikes up ahead of me and it didn’t just swoop, it hovered and continued to peck them.”

“It cut Arthur’s face and it’s still a big scab today and it went right through Alfie’s shirt and he’s got a bruise on the back of his neck. This one can go for an ear or an eye where it can really do some damage.”

While Ms Boucher and her sons live only a few houses from the town centre, the especially aggressive magpie has forced them to take the long way around.

Since last year, M Boucher has been teaching her children about why magpies swoop and they have started to feed a family outside their home hoping it would prevent further attacks.

“We’re making an effort every day in front of our house to feed the birds so they’re okay,” she said.

“I threw out a couple scraps and told the boys to talk to them but once spring hits and they get swooped, they won’t be riding out front again, we’ll have to get in the car and go somewhere.”

Some Mitchell Shire residents have avoided being swooped by befriending their neighbourhood magpies, feeding them mince and other things.

Some of the magpies have even brought their new babies to visit their friends.
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning senior wildlife management officer Amanda Ashton said swooping occurs every year during breeding season and was largely a defensive manoeuvre.

“For some species, including magpies, this is carried out primarily by males; swooping birds account for less than 10 per cent of the population,” she said.

“Being swooped by a territorial bird is no fun, but this is just normal bird behaviour. The best way to avoid being swooped is to avoid the area all together, though this isn’t always possible.

“If you do end up in an area where there is a swooping bird, try to protect your head and eyes and move quickly through the area without running.”

Magpies and other native birds are protected in Victoria under the Wildlife Act 1975. Under the Act, it is an offence to kill, take, control or harm wildlife in Victoria.