BY JEN DAVIDSON
Narrabeen locals are preparing for up to eight weeks of swoops and swipes from the notorious ‘Woollies magpie’.
Between September and October, the male of the nest, which is fiercely protective of its eggs and fledglings, springs upon unsuspecting victims between the lake walkway on Wellington Street and the village car park. The attacks are often serious, sometimes bloody, and usually terrifying.
But locals say killing the bird is not an option, despite a council in Sydney’s north west this week shooting a magpie for similar offences.
Claire West has been swooped multiple times over a period of years, especially when her children were in prams. “I even tried an alternate route not going by the lake and staying on Lagoon Street but he still got me,” Claire recalls. “I really hated the bird but killing him seems harsh when it’s his instinct to protect.”
Others become hyper vigilant while walking in the area. Rachel Pavitt says she carries an umbrella or waves a piece of clothing above her head to deter the bird. Despite her husbands’ ear being pecked savagely enough to draw blood at the supermarket entrance, she is protective of aggressive magpies’ rights to life.
Some people ride their bikes faster to try and surprise the magpie, others avoid the area altogether. “You got to stay out of their way,” says cyclist Saskia Van Shei after being terrorised by the black and white bird. “You can’t win.” The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) says avoid the ‘defended zone’ by 110 meters if on foot or by 150 meters if riding a bike.
“Clear signs alerting potential victims and tips on strategies to avoid being attacked should be used,” suggests Rachel Pavitt. Currently the Northern Beaches Council posts warning signs around the area but the strategies such as walking in groups, walking not running, pushing your bike through the zone, wearing sunglasses and wide brimmed hats, carrying an open umbrella above your head, and avoiding eye contact, are not included.
The EHP also warns never to approach a young magpie out of the nest and not to fight back by yelling or throwing things at the bird – the magpie will feel threatened and become more aggressive.
As a last resort, other councils have tried setting cages and relocating aggressive birds, successfully rehoming them 10km from urban areas. But nature-loving Narrabeen locals are yet to cry removal, let alone shooting. Instead, they are protective of this member of the community, preferring to make changes to their habits to mitigate attacks. There is a deep respect for the loyal and fierce protection of the magpie to its young. And as any mum would tell you, we would be doing the same.
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