A man in New South Wales has died after attempting to dodge an attack from a magpie, marking an especially tragic start to Australia's annual "swooping season."
The 76-year-old man was riding his bike in Nicholson Park in Wollongong, a coastal city south of Sydney, on the morning of Sunday, September 15. According to a statement from New South Wales authorities, witnesses saw the man ride off the park’s path after a magpie swooped down in front of him, causing him to collide with a fence post and fall to the ground.
He was airlifted to St George Hospital in a critical condition where he received medical attention but died later that evening as a result of serious head injuries.
While this might sound like an unfortunate accident, Australia is no stranger to the trouble caused by aggressive magpies.
The birds referred to as magpies in Australia are actually a separate species from those found in the wider world. With a distinctive white beak that differentiates the species from most others, the males are notoriously aggressive and territorial during mating season, typically using this “swooping” technique to keep animals away from their nests. Since they are often found in urban and suburban areas, they frequently run into contact with humans.
This year’s “swooping season” has been notably earlier than in previous years, animal behavior expert Professor Gisela Kaplan told 7 News Australia. Magpies are most aggressive during springtime, around September and October, however, the behavior has spiked earlier this year following an unseasonably warm winter.
The website Magpie Alert keeps tabs on magpie swooping attacks across Australia. So far this year, they have documented over 1,750 magpie attacks and 210 injuries. Most of these injuries consist of scratches to the head and face from the birds' beaks.
If you live down under and want to avoid magpie attacks, it’s suggested you avoid magpie nesting areas and even plan alternative routes if necessary. Experts also recommend people travel in groups because the birds often target individuals, especially cyclists.
“Magpies seem to have very good memories and have attacked the same people over subsequent seasons and others they just leave alone,” Magpie Alert write on their website. “If it's attacked you before [it's] probably a good idea to use an alternative route next season!”