There’s A Reason Australia’s Magpie-Swooping Season May Be Particularly Bad This Year

They have intent, recognize people, and are not above revenge. GPLama / Shutterstock

Australia wants to kill you. It's the only place in the world where you need a Shazam to identify deadly spiders, for instance. It's the kind of place that a bird of prey that deliberately starts wildfires in order to flush out its victims will happily call home. It's a land where you can go to war with the emu and the emu win.

So you probably won't be surprised by the existence of a "magpie" that swoops down from the skies in order to inflict injuries upon any humans dumb enough to think "I'll live in Australia even though the whole country is clearly trying to wipe out humanity". You also probably won't be surprised that experts are warning 2020 could be a particularly bad year, for a very topical reason. 

The magpies (actually a type of passerine known as butcherbirds, which doesn't make it better) swoop down to protect their nests, generally targeting the head and face of humans who they perceive as a threat to their young. They're particularly aggressive from late August to late November, known as "swooping season". Eye injuries in humans are common during these months. Last year, a man died.

The website Magpiealert tracks reports of swooping incidents, including where the incident took place, alongside casual descriptions of the attacks, like "magpie swooped and struck on head drawing blood" and "got hit on the head twice then it attacked others on other side of the road". In a particularly brutal 2017 season that saw 3,253 attacks and 518 injuries, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear hospital in Melbourne saw 14 cases of eye injury – including a young boy whose eye required surgery – in one month, compared to the usual one or two.

The attacks aren't entirely random either, with 90 percent of attacks against men, compared to 70 percent against women. They also have a tendency to target the same individuals over a number of years.

"Magpies seem to have very good memories and have attacked the same people over subsequent seasons," according to Magpiealert, which includes the advice your route belongs to them now. "If it's attacked you before, probably a good idea to use an alternative route next season."

As if all that isn't bad enough, this year could see a new problem: You might get swooped by a magpie that has a grudge against someone else. Birdlife expert Sean Dooley thinks that people wearing masks may lead to an increase in attacks this year. 

“Research has shown magpies can recognize up to at least 100 different people and we think the main factor is facial recognition," Dooley told 3aw. “If you think a magpie has it in for you, you’re probably right."

With mask-wearing mandatory in the state of Victoria, people known to the magpies and deemed safe may get mistaken for others on whom they are not so keen.

“A magpie may know you and know that you’re okay, but when you’re wearing a mask they may not be able to recognize you,” Dooley said, explaining that the birds may attack those wearing masks which they may associate with bad experiences with other people.

"Magpies would only swoop them when they were wearing a certain type of mask because they had done some behavior that made the magpie fearful,” Mr Dooley added. “It might be the color of the mask that makes them go for you.”

So, choose your mask with care, but don't be an idiot and not wear one.

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