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

To: "Atzeni, Michael" <>
Subject: Re: birding-aus Magpie attacks - grudges, games, or genuine defence?
From: Katherine & Annette Cooke <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 19:15:33 +1000
I am sure there are heaps of magpie "bombing" stories around, and the idea of
one holding a grudge reminded me of some years ago when my now 30 year old son
was about 13, and one took a particular dislike to him (I always blamed it on
his red hair) but is was probably more to do with his aiming ability with a
stone.  We then lived at Waterford (southern Brisbane suburb, but then sparsely
populated) in a traditonal Qld highset (living up, garage, rumpus room under)
and this particular magpie would hover outside the upstairs dining room window
and stare at him.  He eventually resorted to wearing his horse riding helmet
when he was outside.  This went on for a few months over a number of years.  The
magpie would make sporadic dives at other members of the family but when my son
appeared, the attacks were frenzied and very specific. Having a magpie hovering
at the window watching you eat dinner is quite an experience, and used to make
my son very nervous.  That is probably why he isn't a birder!

Recently I worked in Russell St Cleveland in the building now taken over by DEH
and used to watch the pedestrians being bombed by a maggie that nested in a big
gum outside the office.  The kids on their way to and from the High School, just
up the road a little would hide under bushes and do all sort of other antics,
however, it never bombed any of my staff, and I can only assume that it knew us
because it saw us constantly.

Annette Cooke

Atzeni, Michael wrote:

> 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
> emerge.
> 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,
> anyway.
> 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
> email:  
> web:
> > -----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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