birding-aus Magpie attacks - grudges, games, or genuine defence?

To: "'Birding-Aus'" <>
Subject: birding-aus Magpie attacks - grudges, games, or genuine defence?
From: "Atzeni, Michael" <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 11:23:14 +1000
As Lee pointed out, they certainly recognise individuals, particularly those
who have provoked them.   They can also hold a grudge!

They use to nest in the park opposite my childhood home and, one season, a
bird took an unprecedented dislike to my younger brother (no doubt following
some initial provocation), attacking him, but not others, and this continued
on beyond the breeding season.  The bird could pick him in a crowd, even
when he wore a full-faced helmet.  It was so hell-bent on attacking him, it
use to keep a vigil from the powerlines outside the house waiting for him to

Does an aggressive magpie stay that way throughout their breeding life, even
if not provoked?   If so, at what point are we entitled to believe the bird
should know better, and that we're just being used for target practice?  Is
there evidence indicating the aggression becomes more of a game than a
genuine defence, or are over-zealous magpies just slow learners with regards
recognising a genuine human threat?  

Would it be true to say that the aggressive behaviour and the intensity of
the attack e.g. actual pecking and scratching, is reinforced most by
"victories" over fearful people who have no idea how to deal with them,
ironically, the ones who pose the LEAST threat?

I'm sure you've all seen instances of such attacks and some are very
vicious, even potentially life-threatening.  For instance, I saw one
particular bird chase a lady up the footpath, who was screaming
hysterically, her hands protecting her head, cowering all the way.  It was
like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's movie, "The Birds'.   She ran onto
the road without even looking, tripped, and fell flat on her face.  She was
lucky there was no traffic and that she was on her way to the doctor,

I bet the magpie felt invincible after THAT particular conquest!

Michael Atzeni
Toowoomba Q 4350

ph       (07) 46 881 318
fax      (07) 46 881 192

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Lee O'Mahoney [SMTP:
> Sent: Thursday, 8 July 1999 20:36
> To:   
> Subject:      birding-aus Magpie attacks - 'demographics'
> Hi all,
> Unfortunately for us, it seems that when the birds successfully drive a
> human 'predator' away from the nest area, they receive positive
> reinforcement and are likely to increase the level of their attacks.
> Perhaps Ray Cotsell's out-staring technique is the best thing after all.  
> Also, the maggies learn to recognise particular people, lose their fear of
> them and  and engage in even more aerial warfare - not good news for
> people
> regularly passing through maggie territory.
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