MAGPIES

I’m not often attacked physically but recently on a cycle ride home from the Blue Mountains, three different magpies went for me. Yes, it’s that time of the year: breeding season.

Cowardly birds these three: they waited until I’d passed before attacking from behind. There I was, riding along minding my own business, when there came a clatter of wings against the back of my helmet. On each occasion I let forth a startled oath and wobbled across the road.

It’s happened before of course. I cop it at least once a year when magpies are nesting and, judging by the frequency of their attacks, the birds do appear to see cyclists as a big threat. However, I’ve also been attacked on a bushwalk or when ambling along the street to buy some milk at the supermarket.

It also happened overseas when I visited the nesting sites of Arctic Terns.  These attractive gull-like birds have dark red bills – the same colour as the blood they draw. And believe me, they do. Unprotected heads make easy targets.

It’s not hard to avoid Arctic Terns because they nest away from mankind on remote islands. It’s not so easy with our magpies for they live among us.

I can understand the terns’ behaviour because they don’t bother with nests, simply laying their eggs on the ground: in my case near a footpath where passing walkers would be seen as a threat. However magpies don’t have the same excuse: they nest in trees and are generally ignored by their human neighbours.

So what happens if Australian Magpies (to give them their correct name) nest in your backyard and make life a misery for you and your children? The answer is easy. Be patient; simply wait for three or four weeks until the chicks have grown and fledged. When they’re walking and squawking across your lawn, the panic is over: the adults, considering their job done, will leave you alone once more.

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