Don’t even start me with the zip ties, umbrellas or ice cream containers with eyes. Here’s the easy way to achieve that seemingly impossible friendship with magpies.
You just need to know something fascinating about them…
It’s the clacking of the beak for me. In fact, it’s often the only warning we get before a magpie swoops down and connects with the top of our head as we run or cycle past. But rather than being anything vindictive or even territorial, that swooping (which is only performed by males!) has a very reasonable explanation. It’s just a guy defending his chicks. That’s right, protecting a nest from someone they see as a threat accounts for 99% of all swooping.
But there’s a reason why this spring might be the most swoopy of all years. You see, magpies have a gift for remembering faces. It’s thought they can remember over 1000 different people faces and whether they’re a ‘friendly’ or a threat. It’s why it’s incredibly rare to be swooped in your own backyard. They know who you are! But now with so many of us hitting the streets with face masks on, it’s like their memory card has been wiped clean. They just don’t know who is who and may just swoop on suspicion.
But here’s how to achieve peace in two possible ways. First of all, at a safe distance, stand your ground. Then when you can see the magpie, take off your hat (and your mask) and show them your friendly face - keeping your sunglasses on for safety initially. Let them see you, read your good intentions and then move on. Using umbrellas or lunging at them only inflames the situation and makes them truly believe you’re a problem.
The second option is a bit of a cheat but it will work. You can offer a small piece of mince or even a dog biscuit (soaked in some water). This is chequebook diplomacy but considering the challenges many adult magpies face feeding their family, we’ll allow it…once. By helping the magpies, you’ll be off their swoop list for life.