It's spring here in Australia and that's 'Magpie season'. That means that in nests around the nation there are baby magpies making their little gaspy type 'I'm hungry' screeching noises. Unfortunately 'Magpie season' can also mean that people run the risk of being 'swooped on' by protective magpie parent birds if it's felt that the humans are too close to the nests. Where I used to live, it was best not to walk in the park during September and at one school where I taught, there was a swooping magpie near one of the demountable blocks at the back of the campus. During breaks, students would have to wear hats and walk quickly to the playground. If they needed to go to the toilet in school time we sent them in pairs with an umbrella raised.
There is a theory as to why only some magpies swoop. Some magpies do make contact which hurts and in some cases where an eye is involved, people can lose the sight in that eye. It's believed that if a magpie has been ill-treated/teased it remembers and attacks similar looking people in the years to come. Boys on bikes are often attacked. Where I live now I haven't heard any complaints about swooping magpies.
I have been swooped by a magpie but I still love them. They are intelligent, they are good parents and their singing is so joyous. An Australian poet, Judith Wright, wrote a poem dedicated to Magpies. It is no surprise then that it's a favourite of mine. I introduced it to hundreds of my students over the years. (I've put the poem at the end of the post)
We have magpies living around ours and our neighbours' yards and each year we watch them raise the babies. The babies are brown and gradually they become black and white in their second year. When I dig over a garden bed, the magpies come and pick out tasty morsels, especially those wretched curl grubs. The babies in the nest at the moment are being fed grubs from our grass clippings' heap and the parent bird lets me walk past without flying away. I'm looking forward to when the little ones will come down and forage with their parents but that won't be for a while.