Animals, Australia, Urban Walking
Comments 12

Walking the Magpie Gauntlet (Again)

A few days ago I was stopped in my tracks on the Sandgate waterfront by the warning whoops and gnashing beak of an enraged (or possibly just bored) magpie.

I wasn’t the victim this time — an unfortunate cyclist, his helmet bristling with absurdist cable-tie attachments, had inflamed the territorial instincts of the bird, and I did what any reasonable passerby would have done, which is laugh out loud and reach for my camera. It’s always amusing when it happens to someone else.

I actually like magpies — love ’em, in fact:

A magpie on the Sandgate Town Hall clock tower, pre-swoop season.

A magpie on the Sandgate Town Hall clock tower (the library, where I’m writing this, is below), pre-swoop season.

They’re smart, inquisitive, and produce one of the definitive Australian sounds in their warbling dawn chorus. But they make me jumpy at this time of year, a phenomenon I blogged about once before, three years ago to the day.

Swooping Season, as the newspapers enjoy reminding us, is upon us; this site has recorded 664 “swooping attacks” Australia-wide this season, and the warning signs are up again at certain danger zones along my walking routes:

The artist failed to capture the smirk -- this guy looks almost guilty.

The artist failed to capture the smirk — this guy looks almost guilty.

Twice lately I’ve received some karmic payback from the skies for my schadenfreude on the waterfront. On Thursday I was nearing home, ran into my nephew Joel who was making the most of his holidays…


..and had just resumed my stroll when the sickening clack-clack of a beak and a flurry of beating wings brought me to a cowering halt.

The villain had not, this time, spilled blood, but had settled on a wire overhead…

magpie on wire

..with no obvious sign of being done with his game.

Unfortunately one swoop is seldom enough — and like their distant cousin (several times removed), the tiger, magpies enjoy a propensity for attacking from behind. This necessitates an awkward backwards shuffle, particularly tricky when you’re holding a camera pointing vaguely towards your foe on his long, low approach towards your really-quite-valuable eyes.

So much for the “feed ’em and they’ll leave you alone” theory — the magpies on my parents’ verandah are practically obese (admittedly I haven’t paid the tithe to ’em personally). But I knew this blogging game would have its hazards when I signed up for it:

magpie swoops along street

swooping magpie & tree

Still no contact, but you can never let down your guard when he lands:

swooping magpie lands on branch

He’ll let you proceed another 20 metres or so, and then launch another ambush, and another. But I was fortunate this time: as often happens in the bird-eat-bird world of the Australian outdoors, a noisy miner, a species with a bad case of small bird syndrome, arrived to torment the magpie, and I got away in the ensuing commotion:

magpie watching from branch

“The noisy miner is a notably aggressive bird, and chasing, pecking, fighting, scolding, and mobbing occur throughout the day, targeted at both intruders and colony members” ~ Wikipedia

With an advanced case of Post Traumatic Swooped Disorder, I crept along the street yesterday towards coffee and my reserved spot on the park bench, camera loaded and sunglasses on. There’s a long strip of street trees that for another week or two will be a danger zone.

Sure enough, it was an interminable hundred metres or so, as I was stalked and repeatedly swooped, my arch-nemesis going virtually tree to tree (or tree to wire), resting, letting me move on a short distance, and then…

magpie & blue sky

swooping magpie blue sky

magpie on wires

attacking magpie

swooping magpie & wires

attacking magpie

swooping magpie & tree

magpie landing

After four or five raids, a different magpie feeding on a lawn — presumably its mate (magpies mate for life) — flew up to watch the fun. The male took a break to chew the fat with his lady and was immediately joined by a noisy miner…

magpie & noisy miner

..but my respite was brief…

magpie attacking on suburban street

magpie swooping on street

magpie flying under wires

..and after this final assault (delivered without warning cries, unlike others I’ve endured), my assailant landed…

magpie landing on street light

..and sat there, basking in satisfaction…

magpie watching from street light

..while I passed over the invisible borders of its domain and made it to breakfast with both eyeballs, which made reading the morning news on my iPad a breeze.

Now there was just the return journey to get through…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


  1. This reminds me of a scary movie! Please tell all feathered creatures to be on their best behavior when I visit you. I don’t take kindly to dive bombing birds.

  2. Fun. And you have a vid from Urgh! Loved that movie when I was young. Got to see Devo a few years ago in Montreal. Very lucky for that. Take care of yourself. Don’t let the magpies get you down.

    • Never saw Devo though a friend did. I do recall having a conversation with a guy at high school about Energy Domes. He was one of the weird misfits — in retrospect he was definitely cooler than most of our co-students!

      I was buzzed by the same ‘pie twice today — and by a different one a little further up the road. It can be quite stressful taking a walk at this time of year!

  3. Nerolie Wallace says

    Post Traumatic Swooped Disorder?
    Nice to see your sense of humour shining through with the added bonus of an education on bird behaviour 🙂

    You know your writing is far more prolific when separated from the lovely Kate. You might have to consider a 6 month on 6 month off kind of arrangement! (Don’t tell Kate I said that!!) I’m all for romance and happy days but I’m not letting up til you get somewhere with this writing/photographing business of yours. It would be a talent wasted if it weren’t shared far and wide.


    • My local magpie is still messing with me — just today I got swooped again, much gnashing of beaks, I don’t know why. The season should be long over. I’m starting to resent it — I’ve got a bad neck after my last torture session above the Pacific (they call it “flying”) and it’s hard for me to swivel and face a murderous foe. I threw a stick at it a week or so back and now I fear it’s personal for the bastard.

      I’d give up the blogging in a minute to be back with my gal. (I just know she’s gonna read this, heh-heh …) Anyway I’m excited about the possibility of acquiring some new camera gear and associated tech junk pretty soon…

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